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An attack on local control of schools PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 22 June 2017 17:30

People elected to represent the public in government are called leaders, but sometimes it is the forward-looking public that is leading, while the “leaders” follow, trudging along under the burden of their backward ideas.
    You can see that in the way public education is treated by government in Wisconsin. While state government leaders have progressively shrunk K-12 funding by pairing reduced state aid with tax levy limits, the public has responded in school districts across the state by voting for referendums that increase local taxes to fund school facilities and operations.
    This has obviously gotten under the skin of some legislators. State Sen. Duey Stroebel of the Town of Saukville, with half a dozen co-authors, has introduced a package of bills that curtail the ability of voters to make decisions about their schools and punish local taxpayers for approving referendums.
    Stroebel explained his rationale in a statement: “I am tired of being a high tax state, and I’m especially tired of pushing for lower taxes and limited spending only to have the efforts undone in school referenda.”
    Voters in Stroebel’s back yard and elsewhere in the state don’t seem very concerned about his fatigue or his yearning for low-tax bragging rights. In the April election, Grafton School District voters approved a referendum to spend just under $40 million to upgrade neglected and deteriorated school buildings.
    Throughout Wisconsin in April, voters approved 62% of school funding referendums totalling $700 million. In Verona, a $162-million school bonding proposal, one of the biggest in Wisconsin history, was passed by a majority of 73% of the voters.
    In September, the Port Washington-Saukville School District will open the academic wing of its remodeled and expanded high school paid for with borrowing approved by voters in a $49.4 million referendum.
    The takeaway: Wisconsin voters refuse to be led backwards in education.
    Six bills authored by Stroebel and his cohorts would impose various restrictions on school referendums. A particularly mean-spirited one would penalize taxpayers in districts where tax increases for school operating costs are approved in referendums by reducing state aid in an amount equal to 20% of the spending authorized by voters.
    The bills were roundly criticized by public-school officials at a hearing last week. The thrust of their criticism was that revenue limits imposed by the state have made referendums an essential last resort for school districts to meet building needs and in some cases, especially in poorer districts, to fund operating costs.
    A school board member from Baraboo put it well when he told senators at the hearing chaired by Stroebel: “The level of referendums would drop significantly if the state would get behind real education reform.”
    The educational case that these bills should not become law is strong. Beyond that, they are objectionable per se in their manifest contempt for voters. The message this legislation sends is unmistakable: Taxpayers cannot be trusted to make their own decisions about how local taxes are spent.
    This message has been written by legislators who decry big government at every opportunity while singing the praises of local control, but now find it perfectly acceptable to slam the heavy hand of state government down on local school districts and the taxpayers who support them.
    Small wonder that when it comes to schools, the public doesn’t want to follow these leaders.

 
A voodoo experiment goes bad PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 14 June 2017 16:57

The blockbuster news broke last week.
    No, not that blockbuster, not the Trump-Comey-Russia show in Washington. This news came out of Kansas, and Wisconsin residents should hope their legislators were paying attention to it.
    The big news from Kansas was that its Legislature, which is firmly in the control of conservative Republicans, passed a bill that raises state taxes and voted to override the governor’s veto of the tax increase.
    It was big news because the Kansas governor, Sam Brownback, had declared his state a “real-life experiment” in which he led a campaign to drastically reduce taxes with the promise that this would stimulate vigorous economic growth and ensure a prosperous future for the state.
    The experiment didn’t just fail, it exploded, blowing up state services and crippling education with such disastrous effect that Republican legislators rebelled and pushed through a $1.2-billion tax increase to save the state.
    If Wisconsin legislators ignore this, it will be at the peril of their constituents. Gov. Scott Walker and his supporters in the Legislature have been using Wisconsin as a laboratory for a similar experiment in the so-called “trickle-down” economics that paralyzed Kansas.
    Trickle-down believers preach that reducing taxes for wealthier taxpayers and businesses energizes economic growth and job creation, the benefits of which will eventually trickle down to people in the lower income strata. It sounds like magic and in fact is a trick that is all illusion and no substance.
    In Wisconsin, tax cuts that limited state revenue were a factor in harmful reductions in state aid to K-12 public schools and the University of Wisconsin system.
    Meanwhile, there has been no sign that trickle down works in Wisconsin. Job growth is crawling. Walker promised to create 250,000 new jobs by the end of his first term. He is now nearing the end of his second term, and the number of jobs created on his watch stands at about 185,000. The state’s economy ranks 28th in the nation, or a dismal 38th when job creation is factored in.
    By most economic measures, Wisconsin trails its neighbor Minnesota, where taxes for the top 2% of earners were increased.
    Tax cuts usually please taxpayers, but in Kansas many of them recognized the folly of shrinking revenue and shrinking government to satisfy a rigid anti-tax ideology. They voted a number of the governor’s legislative supporters out of office last year in what one newspaper described as “punishment for damaged schools, potholed highways and near recession.” One Republican state senator reported getting “email after email after email from constituents saying, ‘Please, let’s stop this experiment.’”
    The governor of Kansas, who was so full of himself that he once claimed he was leading a “march to zero” where he could do away with income taxes altogether, is paying a price for his hubris.
    Still, he deserves some credit, ironic though it may be, for providing a valuable service. The spectacular failure of his experiment shows other states tempted by trickle-down voodoo—Wisconsin prominent among them—exactly what not to.

 
An environmental affront to Americans who care PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 07 June 2017 19:30

Most people who read this editorial will agree with it.
    We would hesitate to write that about every editorial that appears in this space, but in this case we make the claim confidently.
    In announcing last week that he would renege on the commitment the United States made to participate in the Paris climate accord in 2015, President Donald Trump not only acted against the worldwide scientific consensus on the approaching catastrophe of unchecked global warming and the commitments of representatives of the other 194 countries that signed the accord, but also against the wishes of the American people.
    A majority of Americans in Wisconsin and every other state believe the U.S. should participate in the Paris agreement, according to a Yale University survey.
    Nationally, the Yale survey found that among all voters, 69% favored participation and only 13% opposed it. Among Republican voters, participation was favored by a margin of 51% to 26%. Even among people who had voted for Trump, staying in the Paris accord was favored 47% to 28%.
    The political argument over global warming lingers, in the U.S. at least, but the scientific argument is over. Climate scientists agree that the documented climate change now well underway is caused by human activity. Essentially the only remaining scientific debate is about the extent of the devastation warming will cause—how extreme droughts and storms will be, how high the oceans will rise, how widespread will be natural disasters and famines and when all of this will happen. Forerunners of these extreme-weather impacts are already being tied directly to global warming.
    The survey results showing strong public support for international cooperation on reducing the carbon pollution that is overheating the planet validate the perception that reasonably well-informed people are not going to believe that Donald Trump, who called global warming a hoax perpetrated by China and has demonstrated limited knowledge of complex issues, is right about climate change and that thousands of researchers in many countries are wrong.
    The president said he is pulling the U.S. out of the climate accord to keep a campaign promise to the coal miners who became symbols of the populist fervor of his election supporters.
    According to the U.S. Department of Energy, this country has 65,000 coal miners. The dozens of large companies that unsuccessfully urged the president to honor the Paris agreement, arguing that failing to deal with climate change will hurt the economy, employ millions of workers.
    The coal industry is slowly dying because power plant operators don’t want dirty fuel and can buy clean fuel as cheaply as coal. Trump could use his presidential powers to help miners by making good on his promise to invest in infrastructure rebuilding and retrain miners for the resulting construction jobs—work that would be safer than mining.
    In his speech announcing his decision to quit the climate accord, Trump seemed to assume Americans are ignorant about the environment when he uttered the boastful nonsense that the U.S. “will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth.”
    Most people know better. The U.S. is one the dirtiest countries on Earth in terms of carbon pollution. The Trump administration’s own Department of Energy reports that the U.S. emits more carbon dioxide—the primary cause of global warming—than any other country except China.
    And that is all the more reason it is wrong for the world’s most powerful nation to dishonor its commitment to join other countries in trying to save Earth from the worst of the predictable devastation of man-made climate change.
    It is safe to say most readers agree.

 
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