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.
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.
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.
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.
When Andy Gronik first started polling to gauge a campaign for governor back in April, the Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice described the Milwaukee businessman as “Mary Burke 2.0 but with less public service experience.”
Gronik funded the poll himself, but in an inauspicious turn, the out-of-state polling firm he commissioned referred to Wisconsinites as “Wisconsinians” – like “Illinoisans.” The latest example that Gronik’s isn’t ready for prime time is his declaration that he while he was willing to put up the cash for a poll, he told the AP he won’t self-fund his campaign.
That comes at the same time as Walker campaign manager Joe Fadness announced Walker’s campaign had raised $3.5 million in the first half of 2017 and has $2.4 million cash-on-hand. Gronik’s advertisement that he won’t put his own money into the campaign indicates he won’t be able to compete with a well-funded and well-oiled Walker re-election machine.
If the Democrats are going to nominate a rich guy from Milwaukee with no statewide name ID, pinching pennies won’t be a winning recipe.
Walker is also still extremely popular with the conservative grassroots, who were mobilized by the recall and remain motivated to support the governor. Walker is also capturing the political center. In his 2017-19 state budget, Walker proposes an historic increase in funding for K-12 education, far and away the most popular priority identified in the recent Marquette University Law poll.
The poll also found Walker’s approval rating improving, up three from the last poll to an even 48-48 split. Since 2015 the governor’s poll numbers have consistently improved.
Any Democrat who hopes to challenge Walker in a serious way will have to hope that conservatives are napping on election day. They’ll also have to win over the progressive base – and on that count, Gronik appears to be taking his hackneyed attempt at polling to heart.
The AP reports that Gronik, who describes himself as a “progressive businessman,” plans to run on a left-wing utopia platform:
Gronik, 60, told AP in an exclusive interview that as governor he would fight to restore collective bargaining rights to public workers lost under Walker. He also said he would reinstitute the nonpartisan elections board Walker dissolved, stop further expansion of the private school voucher program and accept federal money Walker rejected to help pay for health insurance for more poor people.
In other words, as governor Gronik would spend all his time tilting at windmills in order to “make Wisconsin Illinois again.” If he’s to be taken at his poll-tested word, he’d try to get rid of Act 10 and Right-to-Work, returning Wisconsin to a time when employees could be forced into unions and compelled to pay dues, most of which end up in the Democratic Party’s coffers.
That’s a good deal for the flailing Democratic Party, whose “compelling vision” for Wisconsin literally hinged on compelling Wisconsin workers to contribute to their election machinery. But it’s a raw deal for the many workers public and private who have rejected union membership since the workplace freedoms have been enacted. It’s also a raw deal for taxpayers, who have saved more than $5 billion as a result of Act 10 over the years.
He would also attempt to revive the Government Accountability Board, the partisan-stacked panel that tried squashing the free speech rights of conservatives in the 2014 elections and aided a rogue prosecutor in illegally raiding the homes of conservative donors and activists. The GAB demonstrated that non-partisan panels are a fantasy. Instead, it was replaced by a bipartisan pair of commissions that have functioned well thus far.
Gronik’s plan would restore a system that led to the intimidation of his party’s political opponents during a crucial election season. Perhaps Gronik could bring in Rahm Emanuel to head the new agency.
Gronik would also try to freeze the growth of school choice in Wisconsin. The ultimate goal of The Left is to kill the program altogether, meaning Wisconsin parents who want to send their kids to schools other than public schools – but aren’t as rich as Gronik – would be out of luck.
That’s good news for teachers unions and public school bureaucrats who can’t get enough taxpayer money, but bad news for anyone who opposes government-monopolized education.
He also says he’ll take federal money for an expansion of BadgerCare. Democrats have long claimed that taking the federal money would mean a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars in “free” money, but in reality the scheme would needlessly add more Wisconsinites to the dole and contribute to the deterioration of the individual insurance market caused by Obamacare.
Gronik and other leftists conveniently ignore the fact that any “free federal money” is just borrowed money that adds to the federal deficit and debt, now at about $20 TRILLION. Walker made a prudent choice by rejecting the Medicaid expansion, believing that the federal government can’t be trusted to keep its funding promise and understanding that all “free” federal money comes with countless strings attached. Under the plan Walker adopted instead, 94.3 percent of Wisconsinites have health insurance coverage.
Asked if he trusts the feds to keep their promise to cover 90 percent of the Medicaid expansion’s costs, Gronik essentially answers “yes.” That, or he doesn’t care if future costs fall on Wisconsin taxpayers.
It’s all an academic exercise, anyway. If past trends hold true – Gov. Walker’s three election wins, the GOP gaining increasing majorities in both houses of the Legislature, Senator Johnson’s re-election, Feingold’s re-rejection, and Trump’s carrying Wisconsin in November – then the Democrats are going to have to do a lot better than an unknown “progressive businessman” from Milwaukee who botched his first poll and plans to run on creating a left-wing utopia that Wisconsin voters have learned materializes as taxpayer hell.
If Gronik wants to find a state that rejects pro-growth reforms and is forced to deal with constant budget calamities and tax hikes, he should hop in his car and drive due south to Illinois – and stay there.
Photo: Andy Gronik (AP)
Here’s a list of announced candidates for statewide and federal elections in Wisconsin in 2018. While formal announcements by incumbents from governor to Congress are so far few and far between, it’s generally expected that all incumbents will run for re-election. We will update this list as formal announcements start rolling in.
- Bob Harlow (D) – 25-year-old Stanford graduate who last ran for Congress in California in 2016 has formally announced
- Andy Gronik (D) – Milwaukee businessman told the AP he will be running
- Governor Scott Walker (R) has not yet formally announced he’ll run for re-election
- Former state Sen. Tim Cullen, Rep. Ron Kind, state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, Dane County exec Joe Parisi, and Milwaukee County exec Chris Abele have all declined to run.
- Other possible Democrat contenders are Mike McCabe, Kathleen Vinehout, Paul Soglin, and Dana Wachs
- No formal announcements yet
- Lt Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R), incumbent
- Josh Kaul (D) – A 36-year-old Madison lawyer and son of former Wisconsin AG Peg Lautenschlager, who recently resigned as head of the state Ethics Commission.
- AG Brad Schimel (R), incumbent
- No formal announcements yet.
- Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), incumbent
- State Sen. Leah Vukmir, veterans advocate Kevin Nicholson, and hedge fund manager Eric Hovde are seen as likely Republican contenders
- Nicole Schneider of the Schneider Trucking family decided against running
Wisconsin Supreme Court
- Incumbent Justice Michael Gableman announced he won’t seek re-election
- Michael Skrenock, conservative Sauk County Circuit Court judge
- Madison attorney Tim Burns
- Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet
Congress, 1st District
- Rep. Paul Ryan (R), incumbent
- Randy Bryce (D), union activist who bills himself as an iron worker
- Cathy Myers (D), teacher and Janesville School Board member
- David Yankovich, Ohio resident who moved to the district this spring
Congress, 2nd District
- *Rep. Mark Pocan (D), incumbent
Congress, 3rd District
- *Rep. Ron Kind (D), incumbent
- Jason Church, a veteran disabled in combat, has been rumored as a possible candidate
Congress, 4th District
- *Rep. Gwen Moore (D), incumbent
Congress, 5th District
- *Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R), incumbent
Congress, 6th District
- *Rep. Glenn Grothmann (R), incumbent
Congress, 7th District
- *Rep. Sean Duffy (R), incumbent
Congress, 8th District
- *Rep. Mike Gallagher (R), incumbent
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.
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.
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.
Two Democrats have rolled out what appear to be strong, well-funded campaigns to take on Speaker Paul Ryan for Wisconsin’s first congressional district next fall.
Cathy Myers is a teacher and Janesville School Board member. Her message will be that Paul Ryan is an “out-of-touch millionaire,” but in the primary she will attempt to unite Democrats behind her with the message of “let’s take on Paul Ryan together.”
Randy Bryce bills himself as a union iron worker. His message centers on bashing Ryan’s healthcare proposals and, in a video that accompanied his rollout, he challenges Ryan to “switch jobs” with him. While he claims to be a humble iron worker, Bryce is a familiar face in political activist circles, having testified before the state legislature against conservative union reforms and taking the bullhorn at a rally protesting President Trump’s visit to Milwaukee.
Is Bryce actually an iron worker, or is he actually one of those people who climbs the union ranks far enough to spend all this time on the job doing union activist work while everyone else toils away?
Both Bryce and Myers rolled out their campaigns with slick, highly produced videos that attempt to tug at heartstrings over healthcare reform. As is the case across the country, the Democrats try to claim Obamacare’s repeal and replacement will cause people to die. Ryan, who was the target of the now-iconic “throwing granny over the cliff” TV ad, is used to being painted as an evil person by the left.
Painting their political opponents as evil death mongers and mustache twirlers seems to be the only hope for a political party with no actual ideas for running a cribbage club, let alone the entire country.
A third Democrat, David Yankovich, has also announced his candidacy. “Weird Dave” Yankovich is an Ohio resident who moved to the district this spring.
Paul Ryan won his last election by a 35 point margin.
(Oh, and Paul Nehlen is back for another quixotic primary scampaign against Ryan. Evidently he spent all the money he fleeced from his contributors in his last bid and needs to pay the bills for the next two years.)
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:
Following the Democratic Party of Wisconsin convention, two potential candidates for governor are gaining increasing notice as the party struggles to find a challenger to face Gov. Walker next year.
One is an outstate Democrat popular among the progressive grassroots who might have an incentive to leave the legislature, and the other is a Madison socialist stalwart who, while a longshot and already being dismissed, might be a dark horse.
State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, is the Democrats’ preference, according to WisPolitics.com:
More than a third of Democratic Party of Wisconsin conventioneers voting in a WisPolitics.com straw poll favored state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout for the party’s 2018 gubernatorial nomination.
Vinehout, of Alma, was favored by 184, or 38 percent, of the 489 delegates, alternates and registered guests who voted in the straw poll. State Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire, was backed by 61, or 13 percent.
Bob Harlow, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in California last year, is the only announced Democratic candidate for governor. He received less than 1 percent of the vote.
Vinehout, in her third term as a state senator from western Wisconsin, was weighing a 2014 bid for governor when she was involved in a car crash and decided against a run as she recovered from her injuries. She also sought the party’s nomination in the 2012 recall attempt of Gov. Scott Walker, finishing a distant third in the Democratic primary with 4 percent of the vote.
One-third is a pretty convincing number for a straw poll, especially considering that Bob Harlow, the only declared Democrat for governor so far, got just one percent. Harlow is a 25-year-old who ran for Congress last year – in California.
If she’s taking all the governor talk seriously – and there’s every reason to think she is considering she has already sought the Dem nomination once – Vinehout has a tough decision to make. Her seat is up again in 2018, so if she runs for re-election, she will be gambling that it won’t be another good year for Republicans.
If 2018 looks anything like 2016, Vinehout could lose re-election.
But if she runs for governor, despite her pluses, she will be walking into a bandsaw – the well-funded, well-oiled, experienced Walker re-election machine.
Why should she be an appealing candidate for the Dems to rally behind? She’s popular among the progressive grassroots – not just in Madison, but statewide. Hailing from Alma, she’s from a rural district along the Mississippi in western Wisconsin, which would immediately render any attack against her as being a “Madison liberal” useless.
She’s possibly the one Democrat from outside the Madison-Milwaukee stretch who stands a chance (Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson recently made a fool out of himself by trying to confront Gov. Walker in a phony, staged stunt where he crashed one of the governor’s press conferences. Having lost in a landslide to Mike Gallagher for Congress in a historically swing district, it’s a good bet that any statewide ambitions he might’ve had are toast).
Vinehout also has a folksy, down-to-earth style and likes to run a grassroots-driven campaign. As is the longstanding tradition of campaigning in that part of the state, she’s been successful because the people have met her and see her as one of them. That would be a problem if the Democrats nominate another standard liberal from a major market.
That said, Vinehout’s hold on her seat is potentially tenuous. In 2014, she held on against Republican Mel Pittman with just 52.5 percent. That’s typically “safe enough,” but Pittman – a very nice guy in my experience – just wasn’t exactly the most dynamic challenger imaginable. Her district, Senate District 31, is also trending Republican. After her near scrape with Pittman, the 31st became one of 710 state legislative districts that swung from Obama to Trump in 2016.
Also, the only incumbent Democratic Assemblyman to lose his seat in 2016 was Chris Danou. His former Assembly district, now represented by Republican Treig Pronschinske, makes up a geographically significant chunk of Vinehout’s district.
While Vinehout would have to hope for a good year for Democrats if she runs for re-election, and might have solid statewide appeal even if 2018 isn’t a wave year for Democrats, another candidate floating his potential candidacy would have to ride a wave – and might just have the socialist street cred to fire up the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin – a socialist septuagenarian (age 72) who pours himself into the mold of Bernie Sanders – is also now considering running. Soglin, who has a J.D. from UW-Madison, has been the mayor of Wisconsin’s most liberal city on-and-off for decades. Per the Wisconsin State Journal:
A longtime stalwart of Madison’s political scene, Soglin, 72, got his start in activism in the civil rights movement and antiwar protests of the 1960s. He first was elected to office as a city councilman in 1968.
Since then Soglin has served three stints as Madison mayor: from 1973–79, 1989-97 and again from 2011 to the present. He was re-elected in 2015 and his current term ends in 2019.
If he were the Dem nominee, Soglin could complete a Democratic trifecta of Madison attorneys running for statewide office. Josh Kaul, son of former attorney general Peg Lautenschlager and a Madison lawyer, is running for AG against Brad Schimel. Tim Burns, another Madison lawyer, is running for state Supreme Court against conservative justice Michael Gableman.
The solution to Dem woes in statewide elections is often said to be recruiting a progressive candidate from outstate – like Vinehout – instead of clinging to creatures of liberal enclaves – the epitome of which is Soglin.
Walker and other Republicans have said the Democrats’ nominating Soglin, who they would certainly write off as a far-left Madison radical, would be a godsend. But Soglin might be onto something when he cites Sanders’ dominating performance in Wisconsin in the Democratic primary as a reason he’s looking at a run.
While it’s certainly difficult to imagine Soglin defeating Walker under any normal scenario, he could pose a real threat under certain conditions:
- A bad midterm cycle for the party in unified control both in Wisconsin and Washington (the GOP), as is often the case.
- A candidate who can unite the far-left (a la Sanders) and drive turnout in liberal bastions like, eh hem, Madison.
- Continued turmoil and squabbling among Republicans in Madison.
Add to that a dark horse candidate who is clearly not taken seriously, a demoralized and possibly sleepy, complacent conservative base, and a fired up left-wing base, and it’s not completely impossible to envision a way for a candidate like Soglin to win, especially if the zeitgeist swings to the left in 2018.
If I were Republicans, I wouldn’t be dismissing any candidate – nor would I be broadcasting to the base that “we got this” – no matter who the Democrats nominate.
Update: To assume Paul Soglin would have the Madison progressive vote on lock is evidently off the mark. I’ve heard from several people much more familiar with City of Madison politics than myself that Soglin is hardly a hero among the left in the state’s capital, despite having been elected the city’s mayor three times over the decades.
That makes any quest by Soglin to gain the Dems’ nomination a bit more quixotic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wisconsin Democrats are turning to a U.S. Senator from Illinois to highlight their party’s annual convention in June. From the AP:
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, will be the keynote speaker at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention in June.
The state party on Thursday announced Duckworth as the headliner for the first day of its meeting Friday, June 2. The annual gathering bringing together state office holders, party activists and others is in Middleton, just outside of Madison.
The meeting comes as the Democratic Party prepares to defend the seat of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin next year and find a challenger for Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Numerous Democrats have said they will not take him on, while others are still mulling whether to get in the race.
The AP report mentions Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin, who would seem to be the obvious choice to serve as the keynote speaker. That, in part, is because the Democrats don’t yet have a candidate for governor to put front-and-center.
But why is Baldwin taking a lower-profile role? Is she afraid of reminding everyone that she’s the far-left Democrats’ superhero in a state that’s been consistently rejecting Democrats? Considering several of her recent initiatives, including advertising that President Trump supports her “buy America” plan, as well as a politically motivated move to de-list the Grey Wolf, that’s not an unreasonable guess.
In any case, importing a senator from a neighboring state to highlight a convention is a loud statement about how little talent the party has in-state.