- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 31

Clarke’s departure gives Walker an opportunity

The resignation of Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. on Thursday afternoon marks the end of an era - and the potential for a fresh start for the Sheriff’s Office.

Gov. Scott Walker has a chance to appoint a competent law enforcement professional who has the respect and confidence of deputies and other professionals across the state. Clarke had lost that with his bullying ways and intemperate language in recent years. As we noted in May, his departure will be good for the county.

Here’s what we said then after he announced that he was taking a job with the Trump administration (an offer that fell through):

“Clearly, he lost interest in being sheriff long ago and was no longer doing the job that voters elected him to do. But before he goes, Clarke owes this community an explanation for the four deaths that occurred in the jail last year. Voters deserve at least that much.”

And here’s what we said in March when we argued it was time for the sheriff to go:

“The governor should avoid playing politics, and appoint a steady, thoughtful, professional leader - qualities sorely needed after years of neglect by Clarke, who, after a promising start, used the office to build his personal brand.

“Walker should pick a law enforcement professional. Someone who will enforce the law and be tough on criminals, while respecting the civil rights of all citizens. Someone who understands modern policing techniques. Someone who won’t call on citizens to keep guns always at the ready in their homes because law enforcement officers might not get there in time.”

“Pick someone capable of managing a department and restoring a sense of high morale and professionalism among sheriff’s deputies. Someone who will promote people on merit.

“Pick someone who is capable of cleaning up the mess at the County Jail where four people, one a newborn infant, died last year. One of those inmates, suffering from severe mental illness, died of homicide by dehydration.

“Pick someone mature enough to deal with other officials respectfully and honestly. Someone who won’t call the medical examiner and berate him about releasing public records to the citizens who own those records, or challenge the county executive (figuratively) to a shoot-out at high noon. Someone who will deal with a reasonable budget assigned to his department without name-calling and without always demanding more from taxpayers.

“Pick someone who won’t abuse his office by ordering deputies to detain and question a citizen who complained that all he did was dare to shake his head at the sheriff’s Dallas Cowboys fan gear on an airplane. Someone who won’t resort to playground name-calling of critics via social media. Someone who won’t disparage legitimate peaceful protest movements as beneath contempt. Someone who will provide the public with the information it needs in a timely manner.

“Pick someone who will put his primary focus on serving the citizens of Milwaukee County rather than traipsing around the world on book tours or campaigning for a candidate he hopes will give him a higher-profile, higher-paying job.”

Now that Walker finally has the chance to replace Clarke, we urge the governor to see that Milwaukee County is better served by a new sheriff than it ever was under David A. Clarke Jr.


Wisconsin State Journal, Sept. 3

Now is Paul Ryan’s chance to do more than talk about tax reform

When House Speaker Paul Ryan held a town hall meeting in Racine recently, tax reform came up. It’s a priority he’s been talking about for the last decade.

Now is the time to do more than talk.

The tax code is broken and unfair. Congress last overhauled it more than 30 years ago. And seemingly every year since then, lawmakers have added more exemptions that serve special interests and more loopholes that appease big campaign donors.

The resulting byzantine tax system frustrates most filers. It serves only accountants and their clients who can afford to pay someone else to ferret out every deduction and write-off.

Despite broad consensus for reform, Ryan, R-Janesville, has not gained much legislative traction over the years. He’s been all talk.

For eight years, a big sticking point was Democratic President Barrack Obama, who disagreed with Ryan on the right solution. Obama is no longer president, so that excuse is gone. President Donald Trump is desperate for a legislative victory and wants tax reform. Ryan finally has an opportunity to succeed.

After his nationally televised town hall two weeks ago in his congressional district, Ryan took his proposal on the road to the West Coast. His core ideas for reform are: cut taxes for families, cut taxes for businesses and simplify the tax code.

Cutting taxes for families, especially middle-class families, is hardly controversial. Tax cuts for wealthier families is more difficult to build consensus around. But the reality is that if cuts are to occur, the people who pay the greatest share of all personal income taxes are bound to share in them.

Cutting taxes for businesses has opponents on the far left, but most leaders agree on the need. America’s corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the developed world. It encourages corporations to shift profits overseas and discourages reinvestment at home. That hinders economic growth, innovation and job creation.

Finally, simplifying the tax code has strong support among the public. At more than 4 million words - nearly five times as long as the Bible, according to Politifact - it needs it. Ryan’s idea of completing your taxes on just a postcard might be optimistic, but it’s a good goal.

Controversies emerge when the discussion turns to specifics. How much should the wealthy benefit versus the middle class and poor? How many tax brackets should there be? What is the right rate for corporate taxes?

The sort of comprehensive reform the nation needs must address those and many more questions. To survive past a congress or two and the current president, reform must win support from both Democrats and Republicans. It doesn’t have to be unanimous, but it does need to include compromise.

It will take strong leadership from Ryan to reach a deal. And the task is made even more difficult by America’s precarious finances. Successful reform should end with something that is revenue neutral or even revenue positive so the nation doesn’t dig even deeper into debt.

Ryan has a chance to become a historic leader who accomplishes tax reform in a particularly divisive time. In the next few months, Wisconsin and the nation will see if he is up to the task.


The Journal Times of Racine, Sept. 4

Foxconn and your property taxes

Since the Republicans took control of the governor’s office and both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature in 2011, there has been stiff opposition to increasing property taxes in the state, to the point of making a property-tax hike a much steeper hill to climb for municipal and school-district governing bodies. For that, the state’s property taxpayers can be grateful.

But in those six-plus years, nothing has come along in Wisconsin’s affairs quite like the pending placement, possibly in Mount Pleasant, of a $10 billion plant by Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn.

This is a dramatically different situation, and it’s going to require different rules.

Because of property tax caps imposed by Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature, while the Foxconn plant is being built in whichever community it lands, that community’s town board, village board or city council might decide to increase property taxes. Which would make a certain amount of sense, since there will be a steep increase in power, water and sewer use in that community because of the gigantic new neighbor.

The new construction the Foxconn plant brings will bring about a substantial rise in new taxing authority in that community.

Kenosha also is reportedly in the running to be the location of the plant. As Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said in recent testimony before state lawmakers, there’s a Catch-22 - for the younger readers, that’s where you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t - for the municipality which lands the Foxconn plant.

A special district will be created for Foxconn around the undeveloped land in the host community. That district will allow local officials to use the property taxes paid by the factory to pay for the costs of new infrastructure serving the plant such as streets, sewers and water line capacity. But existing state limits on property tax increases mean local governments can’t raise their levies by more than the amount of new construction in the previous year.

If it’s Mount Pleasant, for example, as pointed out in an Aug. 28 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report, this is an entirely possible scenario under existing state law:

Mount Pleasant had total property valued at just over $2.5 billion in 2016. If Foxconn were to add $250 million of taxable new construction in a single year - which, given the magnitude and plans of the company in question, isn’t unrealistic - then the village would have the ability to raise property taxes by up to 10 percent. Because the Foxconn plant and its tax payments would be in a special district, this hypothetical increase of up to 10 percent could fall on existing homeowners outside the district.

Antaramian, when testifying before state lawmakers, asked for more flexibility from state restrictions on local taxing and spending that could complicate the Foxconn deal.

On behalf of the Mount Pleasant readers of The Journal Times, we’d like to see more flexibility, too.

We welcome the jobs coming, both directly and indirectly, through the arrival of the Foxconn plant. But we’re concerned about the possibility of the property taxpayers in one of our communities taking a big hit in the annual bill for something which will benefit all of southeastern Wisconsin.

Gov. Walker and the Legislature must find a balance between the tax incentives being offered to Foxconn and their commitment to keeping property taxes down.

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