- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 27

Audit adds fuel to fixing state roads

A state audit this week reinforced the need for Wisconsin to take better care of its roads.

Sturdy, safe highways will require more money from a reliable source of revenue - something Gov. Scott Walker and lawmakers must accept.

The audit of the state highway program identified some potential savings, but nothing remotely close to the nearly $1 billion shortfall in the Department of Transportation’s next budget.

The state’s gas tax hasn’t been increased in more than a decade, producing flat revenue that can’t cover the rising cost of construction and maintenance.

The portion of state highways in good condition fell from 54 percent in 2010 to just 41 percent in 2015, according to the Legislative Audit Bureau. At the same time, those roads in poor or worse condition increased from 7 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2015. And they’re projected to more than double to 42 percent in a decade.

Wisconsin’s highways are “considerably” worse, the audit found, than those in six other Midwestern states and the nation as a whole.

“A long-term solution is needed,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said. “It’s clear Wisconsin is trying to do too much with too little, and taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth.”

He’s right.

Many road projects wind up costing far more than the DOT originally estimates, the audit showed. The Verona Road project southwest of Madison’s Beltline, for example, had a price tag of $150 million in 2011. But as of last fall, the reconstruction of this vital artery for commuters, truckers and fast-growing businesses totaled $280 million - nearly twice the original tally.

The DOT has failed to properly account for inflation, according to the audit. Another factor is construction delays - caused by state leaders - that unnecessarily drive up expense.

Verona Road already has been delayed once because state leaders didn’t think they had enough money to finish it on time. Now the governor wants to stall it again, which would cost taxpayers more in the end.

Added expense also came from higher-than-anticipated traffic counts on Verona Road, which convinced the DOT to add lanes and a bigger intersection. In addition, the DOT was surprised by higher cost for acquiring real estate in the area.

The DOT must do a better job at planning expenses.

But state transportation officials aren’t the only ones failing to account for inflation. The governor and Legislature have done the same thing by capping the state’s gas tax at 30.9 cents per gallon for a decade - even as motorists drive fewer miles in more fuel-efficient vehicles, meaning they pay less.

The audit shows state highways are deteriorating faster than they’re being fixed. The solution is solid funding for a modern transportation system that collects reasonable user fees from drivers.

___

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 25

Donald Trump and his thrilling maze of ‘alt-facts’

Coming next on today’s episode of “Donald Trump: Reality President:”

Voter fraud nearly costs Donald Trump the election!

Millions of illegal votes cast!

Major investigation forthcoming!

If only this was reality TV.

But it’s not. Unfortunately, it’s just reality.

Donald Trump, a true believer in “alternative facts,” is calling for a major investigation of his latest lie - that widespread voter fraud caused him to lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in November’s election. Millions of illegal votes were cast, the president claims without a shred of evidence.

“Depending on results” of this investigation, Trump tweeted, “we will strengthen up voting procedures!”

What actually should happen is this: Voter suppression techniques put in place in state after state, including Wisconsin, should be lifted so that more voters have a better chance to have their voices heard.

But Trump may be serious. Clearly, this has gotten under his thin skin.

In a reception for congressional leaders earlier this week, Trump claimed that between 3 million and 5 million ballots were cast illegally during the Nov. 8 election. He won a narrow victory in the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

The president and his team have provided no facts to back up his audacious claim and independent analyses of the election found almost no confirmed cases of fraud.

What this really is: The mark of a guy who is still stewing about finishing second.

Get over it, President Trump.

And get on with the business of this great nation.

___

Beloit Daily News, Jan. 30

Don’t make work feel like a penalty

Gov. Scott Walker, in an initiative he’s calling “Wisconsin Works for Everyone,” wants to reform welfare including adding a requirement that parents with school kids must work 80 hours a month or receive job training. Those who don’t, or won’t, would risk losing at least a portion of food stamp benefits.

If the parent fell into noncompliance, sanctions “would be partial, only affecting the noncompliant adult’s portion of the (food) allotment,” a statement from the governor’s office read. That could prove interesting, since the parent presumably could just gobble up the kids’ food.

Walker is expected to include the plan in his biennial budget. He may need special dispensation from the Trump administration, waiving federal regulations to implement the work requirement.

Predictably, the plan attracted immediate incoming fire from political interests claiming Walker is victimizing the victims.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin issued a statement: “The Walker administration doesn’t understand that it isn’t about people not wanting to work. It’s that they feel left behind because the administration has been completely inept at creating policies that can produce family sustaining jobs.”

A Milwaukee Democrat senator said Walker is being “morally unfair.” Sen. LaTonya Johnson added, “I believe it is morally unfair and unjust to threaten reduced access to food and shelter for low-income families with children.”

Meanwhile, Walker’s usual cheerleaders at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce took just the opposite stand: “Gov. Walker’s proposed reforms would actually incentivize work, while making sure our government is still providing a hand up to those in need.”

Typical political narrative, painting every situation in stark hues of black and white.

Conservatives suggest poor people don’t want to work. Liberals suggest conservatives are mean to poor people.

Meanwhile, those poor people remain stuck in life’s lowest position, sometimes sustained for generations.

The problem is not simply black and white - it comes in various shades of gray.

A lot of poor folks already are working, but do not have the skills to command middle-class pay on which a family can live. Others began the descent into dependency as mere kids themselves, failing to acquire necessary education and job skills to be marketable in the world of work. Some have the skills but lack support and confidence in themselves, perhaps because they come from homes that did not prepare them for the competition of the workplace. And, yes, we’re sure some just don’t want to work if they can get paid to stay at home.

There’s truth, too, in the criticism that many jobs - think minimum wage or a little higher - do not pay enough to replace welfare benefits. Low-skill workers thus have no incentive to seek those jobs. Everyone who can should work. But that only applies if work pays enough to make ends meet, at least to the level of replacing welfare benefits.

The polarized political differences spit out by Democrats and Republicans on topics like this do more harm than good. Democrats should realize that prolonged welfare leads to dependency and despair, sometimes for generations, and government programs can only be termed successful if they transition people to independence. And Republicans should realize welfare is not a character flaw, but a result of conditions and policies both parties have helped create over several lifetimes.

Both should agree on this: The present system is not achieving the right results.

That means reforms are needed. It also means reforms should be humane.

Work cannot be presented as a penalty. It must be a reward.

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