- Associated Press - Monday, December 17, 2018

The Capital Times, Dec. 14

Bill Kraus, voice for civility, was one of state’s best

Wisconsin has lost not only one of its best, but also a direct link to a time when civility ruled state politics.

Bill Kraus passed away Friday at the age of 92 after a brief bout with pneumonia, ending a life that played a major role on the state’s political scene.

He was a Republican in the mold of the late Govs. Warren P. Knowles and Lee S. Dreyfus. He helped fashion Knowles’ winning campaigns in 1964, ‘66 and ‘68 and was the mastermind behind Dreyfus’ unconventional campaign in 1978.

But his demeanor, his openness and his personality won him friends from throughout the political world. He was a go-to person for reporters seeking sage comments. He was a frequent guest on panels at political gatherings and he selflessly wrote columns for newspapers and other media urging politicians to show some civility in their jobs.

He was frequently a guest representing the Republican view on television shows, often paired with the late Ed Garvey, a staunch progressive Democrat, with whom he became close friends.

He served as the chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin for more than 20 years, stepping down two years ago not to retire, said Jay Heck, CCW’s executive director, but to take on other pursuits, remaining active to the end. He joined Common Cause because of his disgust with latter-day GOP politics, gerrymandering legislative districts and enacting laws to make it more difficult to vote.

An award was established in his honor by the UW System’s Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service. He was named the first recipient of the award this past April; the honor recognized his “lifetime of civic leadership.”

In short, he was a serious thinker and helped move Wisconsin into better places during his long career. But he was also a fun guy who enjoyed everything from sports to playing bridge. His Friday afternoon lunches with retired politicians and newspeople was one example of his constant involvement in forging better relationships.

Madison - no, the entire state of Wisconsin - is going to miss Bill Kraus and long remember what he’s meant to so many people.

Our sincere condolences go out to his widow, Toni Sikes, and the rest of his family and close friends.


The Journal Times of Racine, Dec. 16

Ditch the rhetoric and put on your governor hat

That’s our hope - and our advice - to Gov.-elect Tony Evers as he works through his transition period and gets set to take office next month.

Yes, we’re talking specifically here about Foxconn, the massive $10 billion liquid-crystal display manufacturing campus that is being constructed in Mount Pleasant and could hopefully generate 13,000 jobs here in southeastern Wisconsin.

In his successful campaign to unseat Gov. Scott Walker by a narrow margin, Evers at times had some criticisms of Walker’s signature deal with the Taiwanese-based manufacturing giant and the $2.85 billion state-supported tax incentive package.

At one point he called it “a lousy investment” and said he would look at renegotiating the deal, and told the Biz Times, “Foxconn has already backtracked on several of its promises and is not being held accountable by Walker. When I’m governor, we’ll hold Foxconn’s feet to the fire and make sure Wisconsin is getting the best return on investment.”

We suppose that kind of hyperbole is usual these days on the hyper-partisan campaign trail. But, that’s not how we see it here in southeastern Wisconsin. Remember us, Governor-elect? We’re the area of the state with a city that has often topped the unemployment charts and an economy that has suffered mightily with the decline of manufacturing jobs for years.

We see the Foxconn campus as a godsend - a project that can create jobs and potentially transform the entire economy of southeast Wisconsin, not only with the Foxconn manufacturing facility but with ancillary support businesses to complement it.

From our close-up view, we have seen Foxconn take positive actions every step of the way over the past year even as the earth has begun to move to accommodate the campus. We have seen Foxconn make plans for “innovation centers” here in Racine, in Madison, Green Bay, Milwaukee and Eau Claire to support its high tech plant plans; we have seen it partner with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and with local universities and colleges to enhance training and skill development for workers and system processes; we have seen Foxconn pledge to mitigate environmental impacts by developing a zero liquid discharge wastewater treatment system that will more than halve its water needs at the Mount Pleasant campus - a state of the art system that was not required in its contract with Wisconsin.

Others have seen it, too. The Foxconn package has spurred housing development projects in the city of Racine and in western Racine County. The most recent of these is the planned @ North Beach project for the long-neglected Walker manufacturing plant site along Lake Michigan - a $50 million project that Mayor Cory Mason hailed with: “Big picture on this: This the biggest redevelopment project we have seen in this city in probably a generation.”

Foxconn,” Mason said, “has changed everything.”

Good changes for a city and county that have sorely needed them for decades. That’s the reality here in Racine, governor-elect, and we hope you will come to see it that way and resist any temptation to pull at threads - political or legal ones - to try to unravel a package that could boost the economy here in southeastern Wisconsin for generations to come and restore some of the luster we once had as an innovative, forward-looking part of the state.

Take off the campaign hat, put on the governor’s hat and work with and welcome Foxconn to make Wisconsin better.


Beloit Daily News, Dec. 10

Wisconsin needs this powerful tool

Citizens should be able to force binding referendum votes.

Cities and counties in Wisconsin have been worked up over what is called the “dark store loophole” in calculating property taxes for businesses.

It goes like this. Business interests have been agitating for valuations of their properties to be based solely on the structure, as if nothing were in it. Tax assessors put a higher value on a fully operating business - complete with customers, employees and stock - than an empty shell. Obviously, the difference in tax liability for the property owner can be considerable.

Government managers say the dark store situation creates a significant shift in property tax obligations away from commercial enterprises and toward homeowners. A chart in the December edition of The Municipality, published by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, shows this: In the early 1970s the state’s property-tax burden was 50.6 percent residential and 49.4 percent business. In the last year it was 67.2 percent residential and 32.8 percent business.

In response, about two dozen advisory referendums - including here in Rock County - were on the ballot Nov. 6 asking voters to weigh in on whether legislators should close the dark store loophole. More than 800,000 voters - almost 80 percent of votes cast on the issue - said yes.

Don’t expect legislators to take it from there. That’s because the key word is advisory. The politicians can take it or leave it. History suggests, from plenty of prior advisory referendums, the most likely result is no action.

For years now, we have argued Wisconsin needs a constitutional change to allow what is known as the initiative-and-referendum option. Plenty of other states already have it.

Here’s how it works, in a broad sense. Citizens who get frustrated by their legislators brushing them off can gather signatures on a petition. Get enough signatures and the issue goes right over the heads of the politicians and must be placed on the ballot as a binding referendum.

So, dark stores? Maybe. But think bigger - term limits; independent redistricting; campaign finance transparency.

Politicians protect their own interests, and the interests of their donors. We need a tool to shove them out of the way, when all else fails.

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