As I See It

As I See It

Wisconsin's longest running daily commentary, a daily tradition since 1971.

Wednesday - September 20, 2017 8:57 am

La Crosse continues to nickle and dime residents

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The city of La Crosse never seems to miss a way to squeeze a few more bucks out of people. The latest example has to do with sprinklers that people install on their boulevards. For years, these La Crosse homeowners have been doing the city a favor by watering the grass on their boulevards, which are owned by the city. They put in the underground sprinklers at their own expense, and paid for the water used to water the lawn. But the city is hardly saying thank you. Instead, those with the sprinklers recently got a letter from the city telling them there would be a new annual charge of $50 if they wanted to continue being nice by watering what is technically city property. The response has been predictable. Most we spoke with aren't going to pay the fee. Some even tore out their sprinklers and sent them to city hall. In recent years, people who want to launch a boat from a city dock, or have a fire in a backyard firepit, have been told they need to pay to get the necessary permits. And most recently, La Crosse's police chief has warned that with a shorter alternate side parking season recently adopted, the city will lose $35,000 in parking ticket revenue. As a result, he warns, there will be some new pay to park system to make up for that lost revenue. That is an admission this whole alternate side parking system is little more than a money grab, and further evidence that city hall can't seem to get by with less.

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Of course it was too good to be true. The new Wisconsin state budget is crammed with items that have nothing to do with state spending. That is a complete reversal from what members of the state's budget committee promised back in April. We congratulated the Joint Finance Committee at the time for its announcement that it would pull all policy items out of the budget. But by the time their work was done, committee members put them all back. It was at the time a bold move. Republican leaders telling their Republican Governor they weren't going to leave items that have nothing to do with state spending in the budget. They removed 83 items from the budget as the began work on the budget. Bu the budget now being sent to the Governor is again filled with non-fiscal policy decisions which have no business in a state budget, and should be put up for public debate and scrutiny. Among the items in the final budget, a requirement that the UW System track how much time their professors are actually teaching. It doesn't matter if that is a good idea. It is a policy decision, not a spending decision, and shouldn't be in the budget. If it is a good idea, it should be able to stand up to public scrutiny. It shouldn't be crammed in a budget so that it can more easily become law. The budget should only be about state spending, just as the budget committee insisted before returning to business as usual.

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They must be exhausted. Members of the Wisconsin Legislature finally wrapped up their work to complete a new state budget. Two and a half months after that work was due to be completed. And once again, our lawmakers took shortcuts, passed pet projects, and put off the difficult decisions. Those we send to Madison have struggled for years to plug the huge hole in the state’s transportation budget. But once again, rather than figure out how to fix it, they simply put hundreds of millions of dollars in road spending on a credit card. That will cost us more in interest, and put off a number of needed road projects. In this latest budget, lawmakers continue their assault on local communities, taking away local decisions on quarries and recreational trails. The budget does nothing to help working families, but does find $4 million for airport improvements so rich guys can play golf in Wisconsin Rapids. Although Wisconsin is last in the nation in business startups, this budget does nothing to help entrepreneurship. And the state is going all in on Foxconn, providing the largest government giveaway to a private foreign company ever. It is good our lawmakers can go back to their districts with their work completed. They have done enough damage as it is.

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Thursday - September 14, 2017 8:58 am

State should not limit school referendums

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As work continues to wrap up a new budget for the state of Wisconsin, much of the focus has been on how to fund transportation needs, and how much of the store to give away to Foxconn. But also buried in the budget is a provision that prevents local school districts from raising the money they need to educate their students. If approved, the law would restrict how often, and for what reasons, schools could appeal to voters in referendums asking if they will pay more in property tax to fund schools. This is a policy issue that doesn't belong in a state budget. It should be be debated and voted on on its own merits. But what business is it of Madison if the La Crosse school district or any other wants to hold a referendum to build new schools, or improve technology or safety in existing ones? Isn't this the same political party which rails against big government? It has become increasingly common for Wisconsin schools to hold referendums. In just the last six years, 40% of Wisconsin school districts have turned to voters in a referendum. Little surprise, given that state aid to schools has dwindled in Wisconsin, as money is funneled from public education toward private voucher schools. Also not surprising is that 70% of those referendums have been approved by Wisconsin voters. Clearly, voters continue to value a public education, even if our elected officials do not.

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Wednesday - September 13, 2017 9:21 am

Tragedy again brings out our best

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We have seen it many times. When the United States suffers tragedies, good people turn out to do good things. We are seeing it now with the devastation in Texas and in Florida. Average people going out of their way to lend a hand. Whether by donating money, or filling trucks and heading to the trouble spots, it restores our faith in humanity to see so many people willing to help complete strangers. Six members of the La Crosse fire department are in Florida helping people recover. Workers from Xcel Energy are there to help restore power. Churches in La Crosse and throughout the country are soliciting donations to help hurricane victims. One of the more heartwarming stories we heard was that of a woman in Florida who rushed to the hardware store as the hurricane approached, needing a generator for her husband's oxygen tank. The threat of a power outage was real, and she needed power to keep her husband breathing. But when she got to the hardware store, she was too late. Someone had just bought the very last generator. She broke down crying. But the person who bought the last generator heard her story, and gave her the piece of equipment she needed to save her husband's life. Didn't even ask for any money in return. In today's world, where it often seems people prefer to be angry over just about anything, it is good to see that complete strangers are so willing to help others. Its just too bad that it often takes a tragedy for that too happen.

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Friday - September 8, 2017 9:30 am

Foxconn can't skip legal appeals process

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Apparently, our democracy is for sale in Wisconsin. Our elected officials are so eager to get Foxconn to the state, and its promise of 10,000 jobs, they are willing to not just bend the rules, but to shatter them. The incentive package being offered to the Taiwan company includes not just billions of our tax dollars, and not just the offer to waive environmental regulations, but also a plan to desecrate our democracy. The package approved by the Joint finance Committee would carve out a huge exception for Foxconn, allowing the company to completely ignore the rules that govern our judicial system. If this deal passes, any lawsuits filed against Foxconn, and there are certain to be some, Foxconn could bypass the appellate courts and appeal the lawsuit directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Further, any lower court order against Foxconn would be suspended until a ruling from the state's highest court is issued. This is unprecedented, outrageous, a violation of our system of checks and balances, and most likely unconstitutional. No person, or organization, or business in Wisconsin, even the biggest ones, are allowed to have their own rules in the event of a lawsuit. Why should other businesses have to be bothered by the rules if Foxconn does not? Do we craft the rules of our democracy based on how many people a company employs? That is not a democracy. It is corporate rule. And that is not how we do things in Wisconsin.

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Thursday - September 7, 2017 10:04 am

Road funding plan predictably disappointing

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We waited all summer for this? That is our reaction to the news that the Wisconsin Legislature's finance committee has finally come up with a way to pay for road work in the state. Predictably, and sadly, the funding package fails to provide a sustainable, fair, and long-term funding solution to roads in Wisconsin. Instead, the funding package relies on more borrowing, leaving our children to figure out how to pay for road work in the state. The deal includes $400 million in new borrowing, putting the funding for our roads on a credit card. Already, debt service has become an increasingly large amount of the costs of roads, and more borrowing only makes that worse. The deal also calls for adopting new fees for those who drive hybrid and electric cars, who, because their vehicles are more fuel efficient, buy less gas and therefore pay less gas tax. Those driving electric cars would pay a $100 fee, while owners of hybrids would pay $75. It seems we are punishing them for going green. Lawmakers could have increased the gas tax, or vehicle registration fees, or simply found the money elsewhere in the budget to pay for roads. Instead the best they could do is to borrow more money and pay more interest. It took many months to come up with this plan, which still needs approval of the full Assembly and Senate, and the signature of Governor Walker. It seems this deal was hardly one worth waiting for.

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Wednesday - September 6, 2017 10:24 am

Take licenses from repeat drunk drivers

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Drunk driving remains a serious problem in Wisconsin. Yet, repeatedly, efforts to strengthen the state's drunk driving laws have failed. So those who think Wisconsin needs to get serious about curbing drunk driving are trying again. Sen. Van Wanggaard has again introduced legislation which would revoke the driver's licenses of those caught drunk driving for a fourth time or more. Under the bill, those drunk drivers would lose their license for 10 years. Similar legislation failed in the last legislative session. But perhaps now is the time. We repeatedly hear stories of people, including in the La Crosse area, picked up for a six or seventh offense OWI. Yet these people continue to be allowed to drive. This legislation makes sense, and should go further. The state should mandate repeat drunk drivers have ignition interlocks installed in their cars so they won't start if they try to drive drunk. And they should be legally prevented from driving someone else's car, a loophole in the current law. We can't continue to give a pass to those who choose to drink and drive. About one third of those caught driving drunk in Wisconsin have been caught before. One third of the state's drunk driving convictions were repeat offenders. And that is just those who got caught. About 52,000 convictions were for a third offense, and nearly 2800 were for a seventh offense, or more. I certainly don't want to share the road with these people who have demonstrated repeatedly poor judgment. It is time for Wisconsin to finally get serious about this issue, and revoke the driver's licenses of those who keep getting behind the wheel after one too many. That seems more than reasonable.

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