- Associated Press - Monday, April 17, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 14

Duey Stroebel is again attacking local government

“Big Government” Duey Stroebel is at it again, trying to impose more state mandates on local governments and attacking the ability of citizens to make their own decisions about how they run their schools.

The Cedarburg Republican has tried this before: Last legislative session, Stroebel pushed for a bill that would have limited when and how frequently a district could go to referendum. That failed dismally.

But he’s back, and he’s bringing some friends with him, other legislators who are pushing their own bills. And this time, they’re going all out, including a measure that would punish citizens for deciding locally that they want to spend more money on their schools.

Stroebel says his so-called reforms are simply aimed at increasing transparency and empowering voters by bringing more of them into the referendum process. Nonsense.

The real aim is to control property taxes from Madison because Stroebel doesn’t trust local voters to judge for themselves what’s best for their own schools and taxes.

Some of the items on Stroebel’s agenda, such as requiring districts to disclose the costs of debt service and interest payments on any debt issue, make sense. But others are an imposition on local control, such as dictating the timing and process for referendums.

And one - docking a district’s state aid by an amount equal to 20 percent of whatever it generates in an operating referendum - is flat-out ridiculous.

Even Act 10, enacted in 2011, allowed districts to raise property taxes if they could get the OK from voters. Now, suddenly, that’s for Big Brother State Government to decide? Uh, no.

Dan Rossmiller, director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said in an email to the Journal Sentinel, “Ever since revenue limits were imposed … lawmakers have said, if a board feels they don’t have enough funding, they could always ask their voters to approve a referendum to exceed the revenue limit. Now … they are pulling back from that pledge.”

That’s an outrageous imposition of outside control on local government, and these bills deserve the same fate that met Stroebel’s attempt in the last session.

Failure.

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Wisconsin State Journal, April 16

Call off the constitutional convention

State Sen. Chris Kapenga is no James Madison.

Kapenga, R-Delafield, has sponsored a resolution calling for a U.S. constitutional convention. His dream is to bring together a bunch of new Founding Fathers who would adopt a balanced budget amendment. No longer would the federal government be allowed to run in the red.

If Kapenga’s resolution were approved, Wisconsin would become the 30th state to request such a convention, bringing the nation perilously close to the 34 states needed to trigger it under the procedure outlined in Article V of the Constitution. (That tally includes 16 states that approved resolutions during a previous, failed attempt at a convention. Proponents count them, so we do here.)

We say “perilously” close because we agree with the broad range of critics - from the ACLU to the John Birch Society - who warn that such a convention would face little restraint. Once convened it could quickly steam out of control and alter our nation’s founding document in ways that few intend or want.

Kapenga and others who favor the resolution say the convention would be limited to consideration of a balanced budget amendment.

Opponents say such limits have no enforcement mechanism. As Georgetown University professor David Super pointed out in a recent guest column, the last constitutional convention - way back in 1787 - “almost immediately disregarded its charge to merely propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation - and scrapped the Articles’ ratification requirement as well.”

While that turned out pretty well, Super notes that no one has authority to rein in a runaway convention. He asks the right question: “Given today’s politics, who could be sure that nothing crazy would be successfully proposed, and quite possibly ratified?”

We understand, and share, concern about the federal debt. Under President Barrack Obama, the debt ballooned to $20 trillion - partly because of increased spending and decreased revenue during the Great Recession, but mostly because the federal government consistently refuses to bring revenue in line with spending. Americans appear to want more government than we are willing to pay for.

Getting the federal deficit under control and bringing down the long-term debt needs to be a priority. Unfortunately, debt reduction only seems to be an issue for Republicans when Democrats are in power - and never seems to be a priority for Democrats.

But taking on that action requires only political will and the kind of bipartisan cooperation demonstrated by the Bowles-Simpson plan - not an amendment and certainly not a constitutional convention. In other words, it requires congressional leaders to lead.

Thankfully, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, seems in no hurry to bring Kapenga’s resolution to the Senate floor. He said senators need to get “up to speed on implications” of the resolution before deciding whether to consider it.

With so little precedent to guide the proceedings, a constitutional convention would be messy, unpredictable and dangerous. Instead of trying to rewrite the U.S. Constitution, Kapenga should concentrate his energy on lobbying his Republican friends in Congress to work on balancing revenue and spending.

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Beloit Daily News, April 14

Time has come for policy change

By now, every taxpayer knows Wisconsin is in a deep hole when it comes to paying for its transportation infrastructure needs.

So why would the state support any policy that increases its costs?

That’s the practical side of an argument over what is called “prevailing wage.” Under that existing law the state sets minimum pay levels for contractors’ employees when they are working on public projects. The history is fairly simple. When organized labor was a stronger political force these policies were enacted as a protective deal for union employees, setting top-scale pay when the government is writing the check. The practical effect is higher costs for taxpayers.

There’s also a consideration of principle. Should the government be dictating what private builders are required to pay their workforce? Isn’t that a matter that ought to be settled between the employer and employee? If government is going to set wage rates for some work in Wisconsin, well, why not for all?

When a company is fully unionized and may have higher pay scales, it may be a disadvantage if bidding for work against non-union companies. We get that.

But here’s another way of looking at it. When a non-union company has lower wages and can offer taxpayers a break, that advantage arbitrarily is taken away by the heavy hand of government under current law. And taxpayers are coerced into writing a bigger check.

Why is that right?

It’s not. It’s government picking winners and losers based on political considerations.

The ruling Republican majority has been talking about changing this policy the past few years for state projects.

But we give the state budget committee credit for removing a measure from Gov. Scott Walker’s budget. Prevailing wage has been the policy for Wisconsin for a long time and deserves to be considered and debated outside the catch-all budget. The Joint Committee on Finance stripped out several policy provisions for separate consideration, which is the right thing to do.

Two legislators, both Republicans - Sen. Leah Vukmir and Rep. Rob Hutton, both of Brookfield - have introduced separate legislation that would repeal the prevailing wage standard for state road-building projects. The stand-alone bill would have to pass both houses of the legislature and be signed by the governor to become law.

The time has come. The objective for government always should be to give taxpayers the biggest bang for the buck, so it makes sense to support change that could save dollars on state projects.

Likewise, this gets the principle right. It is not government’s job to dictate wages to private-sector interests. That should be decided between employees and employers, in accord with market conditions.

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