I don’t say much about national policy given this blog’s focus but yesterday’s action to block a reasonable background check proposal for gun purchases was ridiculous. The bill had bi-partisan sponsorship. The concept is supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans. And the bill had majority support in the U.S. Senate. Yet it was blocked.
Liberty, freedom, and constitutional rights are concepts worth protecting. But so is common sense. Stopping a bill that would have required background checks for Internet and gun show firearm purchases does nothing to further the cause of liberty, it only undermines common sense.
Of all the reasons out there to oppose school vouchers this is probably the worst. The article comes from the Murfreesboro Post in Murfreesboro, TN, and focuses on a Tennessee state legislator concerned that Islamic schools may participate in a proposed voucher program.
If Milwaukee’s experience is any indication, yes, Islamic schools will participate in Tennessee’s proposed voucher program. So will Catholic schools, Lutheran schools, Baptist schools, Jewish schools, non-sectarian schools, Seventh-Day Adventist schools, and non-denominational Christian schools. And if they all meet the accountability requirements for the Tennessee program, why shouldn’t they participate?
The fears raised by this Tennessee legislator mirror some of the ugly statements made during the debate over the original religious expansion of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) in 1995. Aside from being abhorrent on their face, the concerns about voucher programs funding radical schools have proved to be, surprise surprise, totally unfounded.
Participation in the MPCP is a common thread uniting an incredibly diverse group of schools serving an incredibly diverse group of students in Milwaukee (including 842 whom are attending Islamic schools). The diversity promoted by the MPCP is something of which Milwaukee and Wisconsin can be proud.
So I say to the folks considering vouchers in Tennessee: There are many thoughtful reasons given by those who oppose school vouchers, but this is not one of them.
None of these are bad ideas, and frankly, none of them are all that dramatic. On whole, DPI’s plan is more of an incremental approach to improving education finance than a radical shift in the way the state funds its public schools.
Consider the transfer of the School Levy Tax Credit funding to school aids. Currently the credit is paid directly to municipalities across Wisconsin for purposes of lowering local school property tax levies. It is calculated, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, by taking the entire $747.4 million credit and giving each district a share equal to “each municipality’s share of statewide levies for school purposes during the three preceding years.” In other words, if a district’s levy makes up 5% of the sum of levies throughout the state, the district receives 5% of the tax credit.
Because wealthier communities tend to have higher education levies (which is by design in the equalization aid formula), wealthier districts are more likely to get a greater benefit from the School Levy Tax credit. This fact was the subject of a critical report by UW-Madison Professor Andrew Reschovsky. He found that “property owners in the property-wealthiest school districts are allocated school levy credits that are nearly seven times larger than those going to property owners in the poorest school districts.” Again, this is true, because it is by design.
Importantly, shifting funding for the School Levy Tax Credit into school aids does not mean that the money behind the tax credit will be used to increase public school spending. In general, it would still be used for property tax relief. Though DPI’s plan, unlike Walker’s budget, increases per-pupil revenue limits, it still caps the amount of state aid and local property tax districts can raise. This means increases in school aids will still reduce the property tax ley. The only way school districts get to increase their spending above revenue limits is by going to referendum.
So what does the shifting of the money behind the School Levy Tax Credit to school aids actually accomplish? First, putting the money into the equalization aid formula will create a redistribution of school aids (this is why DPI’s plan includes hold-harmless money for the 5% of districts negatively impacted). Second, it ends the political optics of having a sizable pot of education funds explicitly set aside for property tax relief…which is probably why the School Levy Tax Credit will never go away. In a political argument of direct property tax relief vs. more indirect property tax relief the latter loses.
Why am I writing about this now? Well it sure seems like the Governor’s education proposals are going to be modified by the Republican controlled Joint Committee on Finance. It makes sense for DPI’s proposal, as well as the status of the School Levy Tax Credit, to be part of the ongoing budget discussion.
Right now Milwaukee county parks compete for funding with transit, public works, social services, and healthcare and pension costs for current and retired employees. Pitting the parks budget versus committed legacy costs or highly visible departments like public works is not a fair fight. Deferring maintenance on a playing field will take some time to get noticed, stopping garbage pick-up or pension payments will cause immediate uproar and legal action.
Removing Milwaukee parks from county government would also set an important precedent for other local governments struggling to adequately fund essential services to residents. Imagine what school districts, for example, could do without the array of non-education expenses that too often eat into classroom expenditures. Imagine if cities and counties could focus only on providing services for residents rather than budgeting for promises made in decades past. Surely services would improve.
Public parks contribute to the quality of life of a community, thereby playing a vital role in keeping neighborhoods stable and prosperous. If the percentage of the county tax levy going to Milwaukee parks continues its downward slide Milwaukee’s quality of life will suffer. Creating an accountable independent park district whose sole function is running and funding a parks system is not radical, it’s logical.
Historian John Gurda does not think much of Scott Walker. Gurda, the authority on Milwaukee history, concludes that Walker is an “ideological outlier” that “richly deserves to be recalled.”
The piece seemed out-of-character for Gurda, whose columns usually focus on the connection between Milwaukee’s history and current events. However, I suppose the recall election and the divisions that preceded it are historical events that merit the perspective of Milwaukee’s premier historian.
I found Gurda’s discussion of Walker’s time as County Executive to best illustrate the contrasting perspectives on the Governor’s (all but) elimination of public-sector collective bargaining. Gurda writes:
“As Milwaukee County’s chief executive, Walker showed little interest in the details of service delivery and even less in the nuances of public policy.”
If you accept that, you likely view Walker’s rollback of collective bargaining as a punitive attack on those delivering government services. Similarly, you likely see cuts to shared revenue and reductions in school aids as an attempt to defund the public sector, not balance the state budget.
However, I think there is a case to made that Walker’s reforms were shaped by his experience in county government, not his disinterest. As Walker has stated, he saw first-hand the way collective bargaining can limit the actions of a public sector executive.
Now, local government needs checks and balances; but that is why school boards, city councils, and county boards are democratically elected.
As I have written before, effective local government plays a crucial role in establishing the quality of life of a place. Public investment in local government is a necessary precursor to effectiveness. However, so is a structure that makes local government efficient, and sustainable.
So is Walker an outlier or a visionary when it comes to local government? I imagine that one will be debated for a long while.
Did the Governor overreach in his rollbacks of collective bargaining? That we should know by tomorrow night.
In 2008 I gave a presentation about education reform to a national gathering of state legislators in Salt Lake City. Unbeknownst to me, my boring little talk was apparently part of a larger plot to hand state government over to corporate interests. You see, the gathering of state legislators was a conference held by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
What ALEC actually does is more benign than critics suggest. The organization holds gatherings where state legislators network, listen to expert speakers, and share policy ideas. ALEC also creates model legislation. This function in particular raises the ire of critics.
Some of the concern with ALEC model legislation is legitimate; the diverse needs and statutory environment of states demand more than cookie-cutter legislation. Any legislator that introduces model legislation without considering the reality of his or her state deserves criticism. However, the mere creation and sharing of model legislation is not a nefarious practice. There is a substantialacademicliterature on policy migration showing that formal organizations like ALEC, think tanks, government, and academia all facilitate the exchange of policy ideas between states.
And the facilitation of policy ideas is a positive thing. Good ideas do not originate out of thin air and certainly are not bound by geographic location. It is in the interest of legislators to know what is and is not working elsewhere.
While I do not agree with all of the policy principals advanced by ALEC, I fail to see the evil underpinnings behind their work. I suspect the uptick in attention paid to the organization is nothing more than politics as usual. After all, the creation of boogiemen like ALEC and big labor allow one to dismiss political opponents as simple pawns of powerful interests rather than people with legitimately divergent views.
“The Governor should lead by example and link his pay to average worker pay,” Hulsey said. “Gov. Walker says teachers should be paid based on student performance, so his pay should be based on worker performance.”
See what Rep. Hulsey did there? Likely he’ll get some mileage out of this stunt. Certainly a speech on the Assembly floor attacking Republicans for being unwilling to tie their Governor’s salary to worker pay as well as mention or two on the campaign trail can be expected.
Legislators from both parties partake in this type of silliness, particularly when they are in the minority. Maybe it plays well in partisan caucus or helps with fundraising, but outside of these insular circles it looks like the legislature is more concerned with politics than legislating.
So what happens if the impossible occurs and Hulsey’s act become law? According to his own release, Governor Walker’s pay will be reduced to $117,312 from $144,000. To put it another way, time and energy would be spent to make a political point while exactly nothing addressing the economic and social needs of Wisconsin and its citizens is accomplished.
Politically the rejection of anything relating to job creation is strange. WPRI’s latest public opinion poll shows the majority of respondents (52%) think “jobs/economy” is the most important issue facing state government in Wisconsin. No other issue cracks 20%. Given that short of hiring people there is little government can do to directly create jobs, Gogebic should have been a slam-dunk.
Alas, Wisconsinites also like the environment. The same WPRI poll shows a majority of respondents (51%) think environmental regulations “should not be weakened” to create more mining jobs in northern Wisconsin. The senate vote certainty suggests that when it comes to the competing issue of jobs and the environment, the environment wins.
Which is why I found it humorous that the same state senate that rejected streamlining environmental regulations for jobs approved legislation (by a 24-9 margin!) allowing Wisconsinites to hunt wolves with traps, guns, bows, and crossbows. I know I know, wolves are no longer endangered and pose a legitimate threat to livestock, but the optics sure look strange to this city-dweller.
Maybe the real issue is government power. Poplar Senator Bob Jauch alludes to this, telling WLUK in Green Bay that he wants the jobs but does want the Department of Natural Resources to have its “tools limited.”
More important than why the bill failed is the disappointing end result: 700 mining jobs are not coming to Wisconsin. But hey, at least the senators saw fit to give us a wolf hunt.
I’ve been following the current debt ceiling news somewhat schizophrenically – I’ve been obsessively reading everything the major newspapers puts out, then I get frustrated and try to pretend nothing’s out of the ordinary. Two seconds later I’m refreshing the New York Times webpage in hopes that they’ll have announced a surprise deal that everyone managed to keep secret. It hasn’t been a winning strategy on my part, I’ll admit.
Other people have been more productive. Stateline has a breakdown of how Wisconsin agencies may be impacted. It estimates that Medicaid, law enforcement training, and veterans’ benefits will be hardest hit. The Journal Sentinel reports that, according to a survey commissioned by Governor Walker, Wisconsin has enough funds to maintain its federal programs for about three months. After that, if the federal government is still in default, the state will have to re-prioritize fund allocation.
Even if the federal government somehow resolves this by Tuesday, there still may be some longer-term implications for Wisconsin government. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the GOP has introduced a bill requiring Wisconsin agencies to devise contingency plans if the federal government can’t meet its funding obligations to the state. Their rationale is that even if Congress raises the debt ceiling this year, the problem is not going to go away in years to come. What a depressing (but increasingly probable) idea.
Filed under: Legislation — Christian Schneider @ 1:55 pm
A few weeks ago, I appeared on the “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes” show, on which we discussed the recent statewide smoking ban going into effect. During our discussion, I made a rather ineloquent point that fell well short of the threshold to be considered “humorous.”
The story goes like this – I go see a lot of bands in Madison. Before the smoking ban went into effect in the city, you’d always go home smelling like smoke. But since the ban, I’ve noticed something else at concerts. Namely, when everyone is packed up near the stage, people actually really smell bad. They’re drunk, they’re sweaty, they smell like patchouli and dog hair (it is Madison, after all), and a lot of them attempt the “one cheek sneak” in close quarters. I quickly figured that I enjoyed the masking scent of cigarettes more than the actual smell of drunk Madison residents.
So, on the show, when asked what I thought of the Madison smoking ban, I simply said I opposed it “because people stink.” And that was it. Didn’t make much sense without any explanation, and it pretty much killed the discussion.
ANYWAY, I feel much better about my flub after reading this letter sent to a Wisconsin state legislator regarding the ban. Please take the time to follow this air-tight logic. (Click on the image to make it full screen.)