- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 11

Scott Walker wise to stick with casino rejection

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Such is the case with the Menominee Nation’s request for an off-reservation casino in Kenosha.

Gov. Scott Walker was wise to reject the proposal last month - and to stick with his responsible decision this week.

The tribe tried to revive its glitzy plan Tuesday by promising to contribute $220 million for a basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. The money, according to the tribe, could replace state dollars Walker wants to steer to the arena as part of his state budget request.

The $220 million from the tribe would be on top of a $275 million bond the Menominee offered to post. According to the tribe’s attorneys, the bond would protect state taxpayers from having to cover any losses at a rival Potawatomi casino 30 miles away in Milwaukee, as required by a previous contract.

But wait. There’s more. According to the tribe’s sales pitch, if the state acts now, it also will receive $1.2 billion over time in Kenosha casino revenue the tribe would share with the state.

Add it all up, according to the Menominee, and the “total contribution to the state” is $1.7 billion - plus thousands of casino-related jobs.

“There are now 1.7 billion good reasons to be a strong leader for Wisconsin and say ‘yes,’” the tribe appealed to Walker in a press release Tuesday.

Actually, there is one big reason to keep saying no: The tribe would only be able to deliver on its elaborate promises if its casino were a huge success. And a university study suggested the casino market is saturated, with growing competition for gambling dollars from the Internet.

As Walker said last month: “The risk to the state’s taxpayers is too great.”

He was right then and still is today.

That’s not to say taxpayers should have to pay for a professional basketball arena. That idea demands lots of scrutiny. But there are better ways to find appropriate funding to keep the team in Milwaukee than by banking on a casino jackpot.

Walker was on a trip to England on Tuesday. But a top aide and the governor’s spokeswoman quickly shot down the Menominee’s late attempt to revive the project.

Supporters of the casino have suggested Walker rejected it to help his presidential ambitions. Some conservative voters in the early caucus state of Iowa don’t like gambling, the theory goes.

But stopping the casino also was the fiscally responsible thing to do. And voters on both side of the Iowa and Wisconsin border should appreciate that.

Try as it might, state government will never strike it rich on casinos. Nor should state leaders, from the governor on down, bet on a fat payout that’s unlikely to ever arrive.


Sheboygan Press, Feb. 10

Criminal background checks of candidates worth investigating

Criminal background checks are required to purchase firearms from registered gun dealers in Wisconsin.

The state’s Caregiver Law requires background and criminal history checks of certain personnel responsible for the care and safety of children and adults, particularly at day care and senior living facilities.

Many employers - public and private - make criminal history checks a routine part of their hiring process.

But should candidates for public office be subject to background checks as a condition of their potential “employment?”

That issue has again come to the fore with the recent arrest of Sheboygan Alderman Kevin MatiChek on a charge of repeated sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy.

Current rules for local and state candidates in Wisconsin are relatively simple. They must, on their Declaration of Candidacy forms, state whether they have a felony conviction anywhere in the country. If so, they are prohibited from being on the ballot, unless the felony was pardoned.

Candidates also are forbidden from running in Wisconsin if they’ve been convicted of any misdemeanor “which violates the public trust.” The only problem is that the Legislature has never defined, since the provision became law in 1996, which misdemeanors fit that definition.

There is no subsequent background check, so voters are left with these options: trust the information, rely on the media to dig further, check public records like those found in the Wisconsin Consolidated Court Automation Program (CCAP), or “hire” one of the thousands of online pay-to-see services that advertise criminal background checks.

Sheboygan does not conduct criminal background checks of candidates for local offices. That could change in light of MatiChek’s arrest, according to City Council President Don Hammond.

“Given what’s going on, I think we need to take a look at a lot of different things with respect to that,” Hammond said at a Monday news conference.

The “things” Hammond refers to likely include the cost and efficacy of background checks. There was nothing in MatiChek’s history - investigated by Sheboygan Press Media - to legally prevent him from being elected to the Common Council in 2011.

The fact that four families of teenage boys filed restraining orders against MatiChek in Ozaukee County, beginning in 2002, could have become a mitigating factor. Those incidents occured when MatiChek was in his early 20s, and began nine years before he was elected to the Sheboygan Common Council.

Would a thorough, taxpayer-funded background check of candidate MatiChek have kept him off the Common Council ballot? Legally, no.

It’s probably safe to say, however, that the Ozaukee County information would have given voters pause.

Manitowoc County Clerk Jamie Aulik said candidates often conduct background checks on their opponents in an attempt to gain a potential edge. The media, including the Sheboygan Press, routinely conduct such checks when researching a variety of stories.

The system is not foolproof, however, and information can fall through the cracks. There is merit in at least considering extensive, professional criminal background checks on candidates for local political office.

A thorough cost-benefit analysis should be conducted before committing to such a plan.


Post-Crescent Media, Feb. 9

Walker slams public schools

If you’re a fan of education, Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015-17 budget plan is a travesty.

Much of the attention this week in the wake of Walker’s budget release has centered on his proposed cuts to the University of Wisconsin System and his removal - temporarily, it turned out - of the Wisconsin Idea from the mission of the universities.

But we’re starting with a bigger problem - Walker’s actions against our constitutionally mandated public schools.

In a nutshell, here’s how the majority of the financing of K-12 schools works:

In each budget, a limit is set for how much each school district can raise in revenue. The state provides some of that amount - it’s supposed to be two-thirds, but hasn’t been for the last several budgets. School districts levy property taxes for the rest of the amount.

In each budget, typically, there’s an increase in the revenue limit, to account for districts’ increased costs. It’s called the per-pupil increase - $100 per pupil or $200 per pupil or whatever the governor and the Legislature decide.

Also, the governor and Legislature decide in the budget how much state money it’s giving to school districts. Because of the revenue limit, the more money the state gives schools, the less schools have to levy in property taxes and the lower property taxes will be.

Walker is neither adding to the revenue limit nor including a per-pupil increase. For the next two years, districts will get the same money they have this year. If their fixed costs - like fuel, electricity or heating - go up, tough. Since a district’s budget is 80 to 90 percent personnel costs, the cuts will come from personnel in some form.

And then, it gets worse.

Walker wants to expand the statewide voucher program for students from low-income families (the limit is about $44,000 for a family of four) by eliminating the 1,000-student cap. The only saving grace is that, unlike the current program, the students getting new vouchers have to be coming from a public school or entering kindergarten. They can’t already be in private schools.

And, instead of providing extra money for vouchers in the budget, it’ll be taken entirely out of the pot of money for public schools. If a district loses five kids, it’ll lose what it would’ve gotten from the state to educate those kids. But, a district can’t reduce fixed costs in the same way. It’ll be another financial hit.

And then, it gets worse.

Walker - who has converted from a Common Core proponent to an opponent - finally has discovered that there’s no mandate for school districts to use the educational standards. But in his budget plan, he wants to get rid of the standardized tests that go along with Common Core - tests that state districts have been preparing for over several years and will use for the first time this year. He said districts can choose their own tests, which would make comparing districts difficult.

And, after failing in the last budget, he’s taking another swing at setting up a board that will approve independent charter schools - schools that could be non-profit or for-profit (red flag!) that operate outside of a school district’s governance.

As they did two years ago with the last budget, enough of Walker’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature may object to the governor financially stiffing public schools and will find some extra money to help them.

“I don’t see how they go two years without any (new) money,” Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon and the Senate Republicans’ leading education expert, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But the governor’s plan leads to two interesting philosophical questions.

Given how our public education system is so important to everything we do in the state that it’s ingrained in our state constitution, shouldn’t we want to conserve it?

And, given how Walker wants to further damage our public education system, where’s the “conservative” in that?

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