That From Which Dreams Are Made

local Wisconsin, like most states, publishes sets of scorecards measuring students’ progress. (The overwhelming majority of school districts – 91% – at least meet expectations. Our local district falls within this common group; a few particular schools are admirably above it.)

Yesterday, the district announced the latest results, after the state’s Department of Public Instruction made them public twelve days earlier. The district announcement brings two points to mind, one small and one large.

First the small: an obvious coordination in the announcement on the same day (district news release, district automated calls announcing the release, and school board member’s use of his ersatz news site to promote uncritically that same release) offers yet another example supporting my view from yesterday on conflicts of interest (seeConflicts of Interest Don’t Explode, They Corrode).  I almost feel as though I should offer my thanks to all concerned.

And yet, and yet, there’s a second, larger point: these state scores are not the substantive learning – often immeasurable – on which hopeful adventure and exploration depend.  Last month, I wrote about James Fallows’ Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed, and his eighth sign seems especially relevant:

8. They have unusual schools. Early in our stay, we would ask what was the most distinctive school to visit at the K–12 level. If four or five answers came quickly to mind, that was a good sign.

The examples people suggested ranged widely. Some were “normal” public schools. Some were charters. Some emphasized career and technical training, like Camden County High School, in Georgia. Some were statewide public boarding schools, like the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, and the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Sciences. Some were religious or private schools. The common theme was intensity of experimentation.

(See, from this website, James Fallows on ‘Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed’ (Part 1) and (Part 2).)

There it is, honest to goodness: success for students – and so for a community – comes from distinctive programs and distinctive study, from which particular scores are merely imperfect (sometimes misleading) measurements.

This community – like countless misguided communities – mistakes the map for the terrain. People don’t walk through a map, of course: they walk, variously, through woods, fields, mountains, or beaches.

Scholastic scores like these are touted in communities either through ignorance, a pandering to the ignorance of others, or for futile competitive advantage (which often combines the first two reasons).   Whitewater’s been using this public-relations approach for years, to no clear advantage for students or the community.

There are so many subjects, considered so many times, that are more important than a few charts from a state agency.

The academic exploration that underlies a mere chart is that from which dreams are, truly, made.

Gov. Thompson Rejects WEDC-Style Loans

Republican Tommy Thompson, who served for fourteen years as governor, has written in opposition to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s loan program.  It’s the right position to take, and shows that Thompson understands the problems with WEDC.  Explicitly, Gov. Thompson’s opposition to WEDC-style loans includes local communities’ doling of loans through their own programs.  (Whitewater’s Community Development Authority has been one of several cities Capital Catalyst communities making a practice of this, and seeking more money to keep doing so.)

(There’s an irony here, of course.  Some of the local development men who have claimed close ties to Tommy Thompson are also the ones so strongly tied to the loan programs Gov. Thompson rejects.)  

Here’s Tommy Thompson, from his recent essay in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel :

My time away from public office has further convinced me of one thing: Government shouldn’t operate in the business lending space. I served our state for 14 years as governor and another 21 years in the Legislature, believing and operating under the assumption that there are few things that government does better than business. I left public service in 2004 and have spent more than a decade helping build companies in a variety of industries. I’ve repeatedly helped secure capital, meeting with successful institutional and private investors and have never once during the investment process been asked, “Why isn’t government investing in this company?”

What do all of our neighboring states have in common besides wishing they had Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback? Neither Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota nor any of the other states we share a region with provide a state-backed business loan program — and for good reason. Government — federal, state or local — shouldn’t be in the loan business; it’s neither built for the necessary rigors of the financial due diligence process nor is it best structured to withstand the political pressures that may be inserted into the process.

So very well said.  

See, in full, Tommy Thompson: Government shouldn’t be making loans @ Journal Sentinel

Thompson’s opposition, and the inquiry into state-backed loans, isn’t the end of these stories.  As I’ve mentioned, there’s a cluster of communities – including Whitewater (http://inwisconsin.com/entrepreneurs/assistance/capital-catalyst/)  – that have embraced this idea, with development gurus imagining themselves bankers of the highest order.  

Significantly, even the dodgy WEDC provides no oversight of these loans (“WEDC does not provide direct funding to businesses or review business applications under the program.”)  It’s all in hands of the men who have styled themselves development gurus, public relations experts, business lobbyists, etc. 

Having watched these same men make significant mistakes, pick the wrong priorities, and declare all of it a floral bouquet, one should not expect something different now. 

No matter, they’ve embraced the wrong policy, and the consensus (of policy and politics) against their efforts grows stronger each day.  

The Public Records Law Still Stands

After a push to alter Wisconsin’s Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39), we’re now secure with the original law intact.  

Below one will find a recording of Wisconsin A.G. Brad Schimel’s Open Government Summit, held earlier this week at the Concourse in Madison.  

J.B. Hollen, Schimel’s immediate predecessor, started strongly in favor of the Public Records Law but was less supportive in his second term.  A.G. Schimel’s approach is better for the public, although it’s disadvantageous for public officials seeking to conceal information from the very residents to whom they are legally obligated.

(It’s also helpful that support for the law is widespread, and not confined to the party in opposition.  Two of the key opponents of gutting the law have been the MacIver Institute, a conservative think tank, and Rick Esenberg’s Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative-leaning public interest firm.)

But one has this problem, that has grown worse over these last few years: too many officials, in cities, towns, and universities, have decided that they can reply to a public records request however they’d like.  Replies like this are dares: will you go to court over this?  Alternatively, will you accept what we’ve supplied, however inadequate in reply it so obviously is? 

Some denials may be over fair questions of interpretation; that’s not what I’m describing.  Many denials are a test of one’s citizenship, of one’s rights in a free, well-ordered society: can someone successfully compel others to accept less than their rights require, consigning them to an inferior position in disregard of the law?

There’s no way to know how a requester will respond to an insufficient reply until the need arises, of course.  It’s helpful, though, to state plainly a path one will follow.  Having stated as much, officials will not be able to say they’ve been blindsided.

This summit was long, I know, and time is precious.  Still, there’s much in here, useful for thinking about government, on one’s own, rather than relying on officials’ superficial, self-serving declarations.  

12 Points on the WEDC’s $500,000 Loan for Campaign Contributor’s Failing (and Lying) Company

Seemingly, all Wisconsin is discussing a $500,000 Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation loan to a failing company of a Walker political contributor. 

Here’s a summary of what’s known so far.

1.  The loan was to Building Committee Inc. (BCI), a business owned by William Minahan, a Walker political contributor (and Minahan made contributions to other campaigns, of both major parties).  It was meant to allow BCI to renovate bank or credit union buildings for “energy efficiency.”

2.  The 2011 loan to BCI created no jobs. 

3.  It’s uncertain where the money went.

4.  It’s not been repaid, and the state is suing BCI.

5.  Then-Secretary of Administration Mike Huebsch wanted the WEDC to extend a forgivable loan over eight times as large ($4,300,000).

6.  The WEDC lent BCI the half-million, aware that even that large-but-reduced amount was “fairly risky.”

7.  No other state or federal programs were willing to lend BCI anything.

8.  The original underwriting documents (different from a loan application) for the BCI loan cannot be found. 

9.  State officials never conducted a loan review.

10. BCI failed to disclose lawsuits pending against it, although a loan application required that they be disclosed. 

11.  BCI listed business partners on the energy efficiency project who received no funds and did almost no work. 

See, Top Scott Walker aides pushed for questionable $500,000 WEDC loan @ State Journal.

12. Some of Minahan’s employees contend he asked them to submit political contributions to candidates (in other states) that he designated, and that Minahan promised to reimburse them.

See, Company obtained loan from WEDC, unsuccessful elsewhere @ State Journal.

Below is a selection from FREE WHITEWATER on the WEDC.  There’s also a category link useful for following updates: WEDC.

The Well Runs Dry

As expected, a weak economy, despite four years of talk about spending to create jobs, jobs, jobs means that Wisconsin can expect no additional state revenue to lessen the impact of cuts to education, etc. 

In fact, revenue projections are below estimates.

Here’s the news from the Journal Sentinel this morning (emphasis added):

Madison — State lawmakers can’t count on any additional money to bail them out of budget cuts proposed by Gov. Scott Walker, the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office reported Wednesday.

For months, the GOP governor and Republicans who run the Legislature have said they believed the state would take in more money over the next two years than originally projected, allowing them to prevent or mitigate cuts proposed by Walker for K-12 schools and the University of Wisconsin System.

But the Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported Wednesday that it believed the initial estimates would hold.

In a memo to lawmakers, Bob Lang, the veteran head of the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office, said that tax revenues for this fiscal year are actually running slightly behind projections.

During this fiscal year ending on June 30, tax revenues were expected to grow by 3.7% and so far they are growing at a rate of 3.4%, the fiscal bureau reported.

This year may yet pick up slightly but meanwhile the national economy now appears set to grow at a slower rate than expected over the 2015-’17 budget, leaving no reason to look for more money, Lang reported.

That means lawmakers will have to stick with Walker’s cuts or find others, raise taxes or fees or use borrowing and accounting tricks or some combination of those things. Republican leaders have stood firmly against raising taxes, leaving them few sustainable options except to make cuts….

This is a problem for Wisconsin all around: (1) less for what’s most needed, (2) no appetite among state leaders for reducing what they have mistakenly prioritized, and (3) a climate in which any cuts are stigmatized as bad cuts.

That’s where big-government conservatism has left this state: a stagnant economy, a continuing state fiscal mess, spending and cutting priorities that most residents reject, and no certainty of much better next year, either.

For those who genuinely want smaller government, and who would have cut hundreds of millions in big-ticket road-building, who would have eliminated the WEDC, who would have reduced the size of the state workforce rather than shift costs locally, these are frustrating times. 

This budget could have been balanced differently.  Yet here we are.

To each and every big-government conservative, to each and every Republican who has been more like Nixon than Goldwater, to every proud so-called conservative in Whitewater who’s extended his clammy hands for another treat, gobbling whatever he could find: you have only yourselves to blame for this. You betrayed better principles for nothing more than a few lying headlines in an unread local paper.

Handed a golden opportunity after Gov. Doyle, these few have thrown it away on big spending of a different kind. 

Those of us, libertarians and others who have never been under the sway of a major political party, who have always believed truly and sincerely in smaller, limited government, will be here long after this mediocre class of self-promoters and self-dealers finds all its work consigned to the trash. 

The Tiny Benefit of Proposed Cuts to UW-Whitewater and the Whitewater Schools

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For years,  local conservative insiders (often big public spenders, always big talkers) have walked around this town like they owned all the city.  Along the way, they’ve told anyone who would listen that they’re men of influence, movers and shakers, and people of particular importance

Gov. Walker has now proposed his latest biennial budget, and both UW-Whitewater and the Whitewater public schools are likely to experience considerable cuts. 

So, to the town squires who’ve insinuated their own importance, these recent years, with the Walker Administration and GOP-led legislature: If you are truly what you’ve said you are, then why so little clout with state officials?

All those intimations of importance now look no more credible than those of a drunk at the end of a bar, insisting that he once piloted a lunar lander to the moon’s surface, or that he dated Heidi Klum until he got sick of her, etc. 

It’s possible that some of these proposed budget cuts won’t come to pass. 

It’s certain, though, that truly influential insiders would have been able to prevent those proposed reductions at the first instance. 

So there’s that tiny benefit, one of certainty: one may now be confident that the pretensions of those men to wider influence are unfounded, and laughably so.

Budget First

Last week, Gov. Walker declined to answer Englishman’s question about whether he, Scott Waker, believed in evolution.

Today, in the Journal Sentinel, one learns that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos does believe in evolution

(I’ll bite: I was raised in a liturgical, high-church tradition that taught that the theory of evolution was consistent with faith.  I was well into my teens before I even met someone who contended otherwise.)  

Yet, let me ask this question, faith-and-evolution-reconciling man that I am: does it truly matter to the immediate politics of our state whether Walker or Vos believes similarly? 

If you’re a conservative, do you feel less inclined to either Walker’s or Vos’s policies knowing that Walker won’t answer affirmatively, but that Vos will, on a question about evolution?  

If you’re a liberal, do you feel more inclined to either Walker’s or Vos’s policies knowing that Walker won’t answer affirmatively, but Vos will, on a question about evolution?  

Let’s assume that Walker rejects evolution, and Vos accepts it.

What practical difference will an answer make – this year, in this budget, for the next biennium – to our state? 

The answer does have meaning; I see that. 

It’s simply that it doesn’t matter in a way that changes our politics (or should change our politics) between now and the next state fiscal year. 

There’s a budget proposal before us; it’s the allocation of those billions, for millions of Wisconsinites, that’s the key question in the months ahead.  

Caution arrives late, doesn’t recognize its surroundings

Over these last several days, Wisconsin has begun a debate about the size of possible cuts to the UW System, to public school districts, and other parts of the state budget. 

Some of the discussion stems from a 2.3.15 analysis from the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.  Fiscal Analyst Emily Pope, in reply to State Sen. Janet Bewley, offered an assessment of how cuts in this biennial budget might look, using the allocation employed in the last budget. 

Why local publications, all of which are online, haven’t posted Ms. Pope’s document online I’ve no idea.  (Shouldn’t being online encourage publications to post original documents for readers’ easy review? It’s a common practice at the Journal Sentinel and State Journal, but far less so in our part of the state.)

I’m quite sure readers can, on their own, assess this document.  (One sees that at the Gazette, the paper affords Chancellor Telfer an opportunity to urge caution when reviewing percentage budgetary reductions for UW-Whitewater.  See, subscription req’d, UW-Whitewater Chancellor Richard Telfer cautious with budget cut numbers.)

He’s right about that, of course.  (Ms. Pope applies the method used last time to this time’s proposal; the legislature may use a different method of apportioning cuts for the upcoming biennium. Her analysis clearly explains how she’s reached these absolute and percentage figures.)

None of this should reassure Chancellor Telfer. 

His administration spent years toadying to the WEDC and other state programs-of-the-moment, and yet it’s probable that UW-Whitewater will lose millions on top of the state money the school’s already wasted on undeserving, white-collar projects.

That WEDC money didn’t make UW-Whitewater stronger, it didn’t make Whitewater stronger, and it’s produced a paltry number of jobs for millions in spending and debt. 

Educational spending should be used for substantive learning, not sketchy, thinly-disguised public-relations efforts. These projects are risible to well-read or properly-educated people. They’re an insult to those who believe in America’s long tradition of serious learning in the humanities and sciences.

Worse, UW-Whitewater’s heavier-than-average reliance on funding through tuition is a liability at a time when both legislative and competitive pressures leave tuition increases as an unlikely avenue to make up a shortfall. 

It’s Chancellor Telfer’s budget director, Aimee Arnold, who candidly explains UW-Whitewater’s particular vulnerability: “What makes this so significant is that the primary purpose of the dollars being cut from our budget is for our primary mission.” 

It’s possible that none of these cuts will come to pass, or perhaps only some of them. 

But of whatever size these cuts might be, it’s evident that much of the fate of the institution over which Chancellor Telfer has been responsible these last years is, after all, beyond his grasp.  

See, immediately below, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s analysis:

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The Public-Sector Public-Relations Problem

There’s almost no part of government, down to the smallest unit, that doesn’t approach the public as though a salesperson, as a matter of persuasion through public or media relations.

Consider how odd, how ironic, this situation is: government, whose authority derives in a free society only from the public, uses public resources to present itself craftily and deceptively to the very people to whom government owes its very existence

One would expect candor in that relationship, and instead one finds mostly sophistry. 

So, instead of presenting a story simply and humbly, public agencies use others’ money in taxes to present themselves as though they were not mere public officials, but angels, archangels, and demigods. 

If someone sent one of these officials out to report the weather, he’d return with a story about how he (personally and selflessly) braved a hurricane, two tornadoes, a hailstorm, and a thunderous avalanche, just to let others know that it was, in fact, sunny outside.

Of all the acts of government, few are so distorted as public men using public resources to exaggerate their own accomplishments, or understate their own mistakes, to the very people they claim to serve. 

WEDC: Those Who Can’t Do, Lobby

One of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s many incompetent leaders, Ryan Murray, is leaving behind his controversial, failed role at the WEDC to become a lobbyist

Jobs agency official becomes lobbyist @ JS All Politics Blog reports on Murray’s shabby move:

The No. 2 official at the state’s jobs agency has left the agency to join a lobbying firm.

Ryan Murray, a top lieutenant of GOP Gov. Scott Walker, stepped down recently as the chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Murray, a former deputy chief of staff to Walker, is becoming a partner at The Firm Consulting, which lobbies for top companies such as AT&T and Cessna Aircraft as well as some businesses aligned with startup companies such as gener8tor LLC.

Just about everything that could have gone wrong with the WEDC – an organization dedicated to insiders’ enrichment of a few at the expense of everyone else – has gone wrong. 

See, a link to other posts about the WEDC @ FREE WHITEWATER. 

The Importance of Skills

Over at the Gazette, there’s a letter to the editor that touts Mike Sheridan, candidate for the 15th Senate District, as skillful: Your Views: Mike Sheridan has skills, ability to serve state Senate district (subscription req’d).

I’ve written about Sheridan’s public career before; for those readers who are Democrats, and will vote in the primary, there are better choices.

For those touting Sheridan’s skills, there is at least something to be said for how important skills – in general – are.

Napoleon Dynamite explains:

Just what the Wisconsin Senate needs, no?

State Sen. Kedzie Rushes the Exits

Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, abruptly announced Monday that he was resigning to pursue a “new opportunity,” just about a month after announcing he would retire at the end of the year.

He said he would leave office at the end of the day.

“A new opportunity has come before me, however in order to pursue it further, I must resign from the Senate at this time rather than finish my full term of office,” Kedzie said in a statement.

Via Sen. Neal Kedzie resigns abruptly to pursue ‘new opportunity’ @ Wisconsin State Journal.

Posted also @ Daily Wisconsin.

Perhaps a song that the state senator’s humming today to pass the time while packing up?

The Truth About the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

There are those times when small-government conservatives, Democrats, and libertarians agree. Acknowledging the misconduct, failures, and cronyism of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation would be one of those occasions. It is, among other things, the state’s biggest white-collar welfare scheme, both mismanaged and mendacious.

Here’s the effectual motto of the WEDC:

Corruption, Cronyism, and Incompetence (at Taxpayer Expense)

When officials of the city and university boast of these grants, that’s what they’re peddling.

Job Creation Failure
• 46% of companies receiving incentives with a job creation goal failed to report any progress.
• Less than 25% of companies awarded incentives with job creation goals reached at least half of their goal.
• Only 12% of companies reached the targeted number of jobs.

Job Retention Mediocre
• 37% of companies receiving incentives with a job retention goal have no reported progress toward that goal.
• 62% of companies awarded incentives with job retention goals have reached at least half of their goal.
• 51% reached their targeted number of jobs. But, some of these companies laid off workers either before or after receiving incentives.

Capital Investment Sluggish
• 44% of companies receiving incentives including a capital investment goal have no reported progress toward that goal.
• 42% of companies awarded incentives with capital investment goals reached at least half of their goal.
• 25% reached their targeted level of investment.

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Low Comedy in 3, 2, 1…

Democrats have three choices for the 15th District Senate Primary: Evansville’s Assembly Rep. Janis Ringhand, Janesville-native Austin Scieszinski, or former Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan. 

One sometimes encounters a politician who simply refuses to remain a former politician, and when one encounters such a person, that discovery probably sounds like Mike Sheridan. 

(He’s reportedly walking about, and hinting now and again, that GM may return to Janesville. See, State Senate candidate Mike Sheridan: ‘GM could return’.)

Even funnier, Sheridan is a paid consultant for the businessman (Bill Watson) who’s infamous; as the I’ll-disclose-what-I-want-about-my-supposedly-amazing-project-when-I-damn-feel-like-it developer who’s caused so such concern and outcry in Milton.   

The 15th is a heavily blue district, but if anyone could make the race closer for Republicans, it’s Democrat Mike Sheridan.

For prior FW posts on Sheridan, here’s a helpful link.

Steps for Blogging on a Policy or Proposal

For bloggers who cover politics, policy-making, etc., just as would have been true of essayists and pamphleteers in an earlier time, it helps to have a method to one’s writing.  In the paragraphs below, I’ll list steps one should take when approaching a topic.  

The steps are in a rough order, but in any method, one sometimes returns to an earlier step, or jumps ahead if necessary.

1. Read.  Often long before writing, there’s reading (and listening).  One reads the documents in a proposal, including contracts, studies, and other supporting materials, and listens to presentations on the proposal.  

Reading and listening are more than a study of a particular proposal; they are a reliance on what one has read before, on the topic but also on other topics, perhaps seemingly unrelated at first blush.  In the end, what one reads – if it’s any good – is a review of others’ recounted experiences and analyses.  

Rely on the sound foundation of the works of respected authors and researchers.  

2.  Walk around.  If writing about a place, try to visit it if possible. Maps may produce a poor understanding of distance, line-of-sight, and the influence of weather. Similarly, if writing about devices, try to find one, to hold it in one’s hand, to learn how it looks and feels.

3.  Write initially.  After reading and listening and walking about or examining a device, start writing.  

Sometimes, all that one has read or experienced will offer a definite opinion.

Other times, one may begin merely with a series of questions.  It’s rare that a significant topic inspires just one question.  Questions are both a search for information and an expression of prior, informed understanding.  

Publish your questions.

It’s not an exercise of due diligence to ask one weak question, to ignore the need for a responsive answer, or to fail to act after the vague answers one receives (or does not even receive).  Asking a question and doing nothing after getting no answer or a poor answer isn’t an exercise in accountability, but instead an abdication of it.

Politics is littered with those who think that one tepid question is enough, and that the mere asking somehow fulfills one’s duty.  America did not become a great and advanced republic through timid political and scientific inquiry.

4.  Informal requests to officials.  If you’ve a few questions you’d like to ask directly, do so with an announcement of those same questions to your readers.

It’s a mistake to think that private conversations with officials will advance blogging on public issues.  (See, as an example, mention in FREE WHITEWATER from 11.6.13 letting readers know that I would be asking Whitewater’s city manager about particular documents.)

Private discussions always run the risk of being manipulated to officials’ advantage.  If one would like to be a tool or toad of government, then one can always join a fish-wrap community newspaper, where every day is an exercise in sycophancy.  

5.  Formal requests.  If an inquiry demands a public records request under state or federal law, go ahead and submit one.  As with an informal request to officials, publish the full request online after you’ve submitted it.  Let readers see what you’re seeking from government, verbatim.

In the same way, publish what you receive in reply to your request.  I’ve come to see that it’s a mistake to leave a government’s reply unpublished. Readers should see the full reply.

Be prepared to follow up.  A reply will likely raise other questions.  Let your readers know those questions, including any subsequent, formal records request.  

6.  Litigation.  Never threaten what one is not prepared to do; don’t publish threats (of litigation) in any event.  

(There was an odd situation like this a year ago between two Wisconsin bloggers, where one of them taunted the other with the risk of a lawsuit.  It was a sorry affair.  The law is not a threat; it’s a defense.)     

When writing about a major topic, think – as best as one can – about where it might lead. Most topics, needless to say and thankfully so, will never be the subject of lawsuits.  For a very few, that might be a possibility.  

Consult with a lawyer if you have significant questions, about whether to obtain documents, assure open meetings access, protect a right, or advance a vital public policy.  Conversations on any of these topics will be between the lawyer and the blogger-client, and afterward addressed methodically with sang-froid, that cold calm that’s useful for success. 

I’m sure I’ve missed much, but here’s the general method, some steps to be repeated, others never to be reached: (1) read & listen (2) visit places & study objects if possible, (3) write, asking questions where necessary, (4) submit informal requests to government if seemingly fruitful, (5) submit formal requests under the law, (6) consult an attorney for advice on rights under the law or limitations on government action.   

Having a method for blogging on policy makes writing better for both blogger and readers. It’s as simple as that.

The Crazy-Wrong Argument on Taxes

A succinct truth: money doesn’t grow on trees.

Local government funds municipal projects in one of three principal ways: through local taxes & fees, local borrowing (debt in the form of bonds), or public money from other jurisdictions (grants from the state or federal government).

These grants of state or federal public money are, themselves, from taxes or borrowing (at the federal level, this includes the reckless, inflationary option of simply printing more greenbacks).

In no case, however, in not a single one, do these grants come to a community without a tax impact.

And yet, and yet, official after official will contend that one can take state or federal money without a local consequence, with ‘zero tax impact’ (in the words of a poorly-reasoned newspaper editorial about purchasing expensive farmland as parkland). Residents of a Wisconsin county are simultaneously residents of the state and of America, after all.

(Those who talk about grabbing state and federal grants mean that they’ll take all of the supposed benefits but apportion the costs not merely to their own constituents but to a larger number elsewhere, who will receive no benefit at all.)

Even libertarians, as I am, accept that there will be some public spending, and that there should be some. The key questions are (1) on what objects will we spend? and (2) at what cost, immediately and in alternatives left unfunded?

Exhorting a county’s residents, for example, to “grab” state money now, for whatever silly project, is an exhortation to unthinking selfishness.

It’s all just stuffing more in, and more still, while others go without anything, as though there were no consequence to taking in whatever one can, or whatever comes by on a plate:

The Disgrace that is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

Sometimes one would prefer to be wrong, rather than right. The waste, errors, exaggerations, and lies of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation are such a case:

Madison — Three Senate Democrats asked Wednesday [6.12] for a criminal investigation of Gov. Scott Walker’s signature job creation agency.

The request comes after an audit last month found the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. didn’t require financial statements from companies receiving incentives, gave awards to ineligible businesses and awarded nearly $1 million in tax credits to companies for actions taken before they had signed their contracts with the state. The agency didn’t adequately follow up to see if jobs were being created and didn’t clearly report the jobs numbers that it did have, the report by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau found.

For every official of Whitewater’s municipal government, Community Development Authority, or the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater who ever boasted of ties with the WEDC, here’s an inescapable truth: you’ve sought an alliance with a corrupt, dishonest agency, a crony-capitalist disgrace to all Wisconsin.

The price of self-promotion, flimsy claims, and wasted resources has been too high for our state’s people. Having ignored sound economics and others’ genuine & pressing needs, each and every official who’s sought advantage through the Wisconsin Economic Development Authority has a share in that selfish disaster.

The people of our small city, and our whole state, have always deserved better.

(For prior criticism of the WEDC at this website, please see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)

Tomorrow: An update about Walworth County’s proposed purchase of so-called parkland.

Corporate Welfare in America’s Dairyland (Yet Again)

The practice of thriving, multi-million-dollar companies taking ordinary taxpayers’ money to subsidize their private ventures has two aspects: (1) it’s wrong, as it takes from those with little and gives to those with much and (2) it’s sadly commonplace.

Consider the case of Husco International, a private company in Wisconsin with an expectation of “more than $360 million in global revenue in 2013, a 300-percent increase over 2009 and 20 percent higher than 2012.” By Husco’s own account, it’s committing tens of millions to a capital expansion that will produce one-hundred fifty jobs.

And yet, and yet, despite extraordinary growth and private profit, Husco will still take $800,000 in public money (as tax credits) from the Walker Administration.

Taxpayers’ Tab. At up to $800,000 for 150 jobs, Husco International could reap $5,333 per job from taxpayers over a three-year period. An ordinary person’s earnings – undoubtedly far more meager than the company’s $360 million in global revenue — will subsidize this company.

Having much, Husco will take from those who have far less.

Politics. For Governor Walker (or in their respective days, Govs. Doyle, McCallum, or Thompson), the attraction is clear: use hundreds of thousands in taxpayers’ earnings to associate oneself with another’s success, as though all these reported gains in jobs were somehow impossible without a state subsidy.

That’s a taxpayer-funded, $800,000 campaign commercial.

If Husco can commit $45,000,000 privately (assuming it’s all private), then they can commit 1.7% more for a truly free-market venture. If they can’t, then they’ve a problem of planning that makes them even less suitable for public funds. (This assumes a company with $360 million in expected revenue could be any less suitable for public money).

Many Past Jobs Have Been Abroad. Husco promises these jobs, should they all develop, will be in Wisconsin. [Local Note: They don’t say how many for which towns, in Waukesha or Whitewater. It’s a convenient way to keep both cities’ hopes up.]

Businesses should be able to locate where they wish, but it’s fair to ask a business that now wants tax credits: What about the location of past job growth?

Reportedly, Husco spent large sums previously, but for “new jobs globally, approximately half of which” were in Wisconsin.

Approximately half.

I’ll assume that whatever jobs they do create now will be in Wisconsin; past job-creation has included places elsewhere.

Wisconsin tax credits for Husco presently will bolster a company that previously hired abroad — at a geater number (approx. 250) — than they promise to hire now (150) in Wisconsin. This public money for Husco needlessly bolsters a company that hasn’t always been so Wisconsin-centric.

(Even considering past, published local hiring, almost 40% of these two waves will have been for foreign jobs.)

Multi-million-dollar companies should not receive, as they do not deserve, corporate welfare.

That’s true everywhere, including America’s Dairyland.

Published also @ Daily Adams.

The Failure of Inside-Out (Thanks in Part to Governor Walker)

It’s never been sensible to believe that the center of civilization is 312 W. Whitewater Street, with people and events beyond shrinking markedly in significance as one gets farther from that supposed center. Under that theory, by the time one reaches Palmyra, one might as well be in the unexplored Amazon.

Exaggerating the significance of local – becoming obsessively hyper-local – exaggerates the near and unreasonably diminishes the far. It elevates local customs no matter how backward, and denies a fair consideration of beneficial practices that could be adopted from across the state or country.

I’d say it’s Gov. Walker, of all people, how has made the hyper-local in Wisconsin politically impossible. By raising the ideological stakes between left and right – as matter of state policy that alters former legal, political, and economic relationships within small communities – Walker has made state politics more important. He has simultaneously and necessarily (in this case) made local politics less important.

In effect, he’s Wisconsinized politics away from cities and towns through sweeping legislation from Madison. (The irony is that he’s of a political party that insists it stands for local control.)

Although I’m not a Republican, it’s one of the consequences of his policies that I think is beneficial: one is more powerfully confronted with the question of where one stands. As I’ve always favored an approach that produces local policies only after considering state and national trends, a political approach that looks beyond the town line isn’t a bad idea.

Gov. Walker’s not looking in a libertarian direction (not at all), but he is looking past the idea that only what’s within a hundred yards is what matters.

Hyper-local approaches would have faded anyway, as new media have made connecting to national news and trends as easy – or easier – than walking across the street.

Yet, Walker’s ideological zeal has accelerated the decline of local. It’s a more divided state, no doubt, but at least it’s one that cannot credibly pretend that a city or town is an island. More than ever, state government influences local policy.

The statewide fight over alternative courses of action is worth waging, in itself and for its broadened horizon.

One should use the best ingredients from across all America; anything less is a recipe for mediocrity.

Looking at state (and federal) actions, and shaping local policy only after that examination, is all too the good.

We’ll have a better, less provincial, politics.

Press Release Tips for the WEDC

Let’s assume you’re a troubled, controversial public-private hybrid agency in Wisconsin, like the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. While spending vast sums of public money, you decide to issue a press release announcing taxpayers’ your largesse.

You must know – and hope residents of a small city don’t know — that you’re politically toxic, across the whole political spectrum. For goodness’ sake, a conservative online newspaper from the nationwide Franklin Center is mocking your so-called ‘corporation,’ with lyrics from rap songs:

“Come get money with me, if you curious to see
how it feels to be with a P-I-M-P
Roll in the Benz with me, you could watch TV
From the backseat of my V, I’m a P-I-M-P …
If ever you needed someone, I’m the one you should call
I’ll be there to pick you up, if ever you should fall
If you got problems, I can solve’em, they big or they small”

That’s a damned big PR problem.

So if you’re the WEDC, what should you – in your news release – do or say?

1. Don’t publish the release on the Web, while using the past tense, before the actual ceremony even takes place.

During the Governor’s visit to the Whitewater Innovation Center, the CDA presented Date Check Pro and Got Apps, two area entrepreneurs, the first grants from the fund. The CDA provide both with a $10,000 grant to assist the companies in their business development. Click here to read their stories.

Why shouldn’t you do that? Because a blogger might notice on 2.6.13 that you’d released these words ahead of schedule, might prepare a post in reply that same day, and then follow up on 2.7.13 to ridicule your cheesy, canned press release.

2. When the local university chancellor thanks your organization in that cheesy, canned press release, make sure he gets your name right.

So when he thanks “the Wisconsin Economic Development Council,” you might want to remind him that you’re the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Remember? You’re suposed to have this sounding like a private deal, and use words like corporation and CEO whenever possible. Yeah, it’s really public money, but can’t you at least try to fool people with a consistent use of deceptive terms?

Someone who holds you so close should at least know your name.

3. Ask those you’re quoting to speak matter-of-factly about their own neighbors.

So, if the city manager you’re quoting says that “[w]e are fortunate in Whitewater to have such a proactive, visionary CDA,’ you might want to remind him that ‘visionary,’ sounds absurd from one local person to another.

Visionary? That’s Jonas Salk, or Dr. King, or maybe even a famous science-fiction writer, like Jules Verne. It’s over-the-top and overdone when used to describe one agency to another in the same small city, in the same state.

It sounds silly, and you just never know if someone might point that out, perhaps even on the Web. One way or another, regardless, you can be sure that any normal people reading that flowery description will be thinking it’s silly.

Whitewater, or Wisconsin, or any American city will always deserve better than these clumsy and awkward attempts to hawk crony capitalism.

Next time, you might want to do better.