Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 10:12 am
This week, I appeared on the “Here and Now” show on Wisconsin Public Television to discuss the uselessness of the Government Accountability Board – which continues to operate in violation of federal law by not having an accurate voter list.
“Surely they (other states) faced major problems as well. I think they’re a demonstration that it could have been done effectively and on time,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin. “The system could have been up and operating a year ago.”
When I was finished filming my piece, one of the Wisconsin Public TV employees came up to me and mocked my contention that people are out stuffing the voter rolls with fraudulent names. “Those people out stealing votes – are they riding unicorns while they’re doing it?” they said.
Last week, when WPRI released our report detailing the massive amount of unfunded liabilities local governments are carrying for their retirees, I honestly didn’t expect much of a counter-argument. How could there be? The facts are indisputable. In fact, the best shot a local official took at an explanation was the Superintendent of Waukesha Schools, who unbelievably argued that their financial system is sound because it’s like a mortgage. It’s difficult to think of a worse comparison, given the fact that mortgage lending is currently sending our economy down the tubes. He actually would have been better off saying something like, “our financial system is as safe as the Green Bay Packers with the indestructible Aaron Rodgers at the helm.”
Yet lo and behold, on the very day the report was released, the liberal Citizen Action of Wisconsin attempted to respond to the facts in the report. And needless to say, I remain unconvinced that there is a rational response to the argument we made in the study.
Citizen Action said the “ultraconservative” WPRI report missed the mark because it failed to discuss the fact that health care costs are rising so quickly. (Personally, I would have preferred “mega-conservative,” as it sounds more like we can crush cars with our bare hands, like Optimus Prime.) In fact, one of the reasons the report didn’t go into detail about increasing health costs is because we just released a 20-page paper on that exact topic.
But the main problem with local government retiree health insurance isn’t that the costs are going up too quickly – it’s that the benefits exist at all, and that their existence are going to swamp local budgets in the very near future. If local governments hadn’t attempted to pad their employees’ pockets with this previously publicly undisclosed benefit, they wouldn’t be in the position of having the taxpayers bail them out – which almost certainly will happen. And the rising cost of health care has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that these governments chose to spend billions of dollars on ex-employees that no longer work for the people, instead of spending the funds on existing services.
In fact, Citizen Action’s complaints about the rising cost of health care actually strengthens the immediacy of the WPRI report. We focused on the fact that local governments owe $6 billion in future unfunded liabilities – the fact is, that number is going to increase rapidly over the next few years, both because governments are underfunding their liabilities and because costs are going up.
The truly ironic fact is that Citizen Action is continuing to push their dead-in-the-water “Healthy Wisconsin” single-payer government run health plan. That would be the plan passed by the Wisconsin Senate that all the new Democratic state senate candidates are avoiding as if it were a pair of garage sale underwear. They actually believe that their plan, which would have government completely take over health care in Wisconsin and cost taxpayers $15.2 billion, would actually solve this problem of increasing health care costs. In fact, it would do nothing to slow health costs – it would merely change who pays for them.
A perfect example of how health care costs explode when government takes them over was evident last week, when the state announced that the new BadgerCare Plus program would be $25 million over budget in its first year of existence. The BadgerCare program itself was the same story – in Fiscal Year 2001, the first full year of BadgerCare’s operation, the Legislature spent $129 million in all-funds revenue. By Fiscal Year 2004, merely three years later, that number had nearly doubled to $205.6 million. Consider the retiree health costs that are now being reported, and it’s absurd to argue that somehow costs drop when the government gets involved.
So, it appears Citizen Action’s response to increasing health care costs is to exacerbate the problem by making taxpayers foot the bill. While we’re at it, maybe we can solve the economic crisis by guaranteeing more bad housing loans and asking the taxpayers to pay for it. Wait… we’re doing that?
Finally, Citizen Action criticizes WPRI for supposedly “singling out” government employers for their budget mismanagement. In fact, our report discusses postemployment benefits for private businesses, and how they began to address their liabilities in 1990, to the point that they are now manageable. Furthermore, a previous WPRI study demonstrated that public sector postemployment benefits far exceed those of the private sector. Plus, businesses generally don’t have the taxpayers there to bail them out when they mismanage their liabilities, as governments most certainly will.
It’s hard to fault Citizen Action of Wisconsin for not reading the whole report, though – they’re busy during election season trying to elect Democrats to the Wisconsin Legislature and using state funds to do it.
Imagine you’re a young guy who has just started dating the girl of your dreams. You get around to the discussion of how many people she has “been with.” She says “two.” (That’s what girls always say, usually accompanied by an extensive story about how she dated some guy for years.)
Now imagine there was a Girlfriend Registration Service, where prospective girlfriends had to report their past exploits. Everything is on there – the Spring Break trip to Cancun and everything. When you go look up the new love of your life, you find out her number isn’t two – it’s 34.
Fortunately, for us, there’s a Girlfriend Registration Service for local governments – called the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB). A few years ago, GASB began requiring local governments start reporting the amount of health care costs they owe to retirees in the future. Previously, governments just paid these costs on a year-to-year basis. But now, they have begun reporting their future unfunded liabilities – and in many cases, they are stunning.
Today, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute released a report detailing local government postemployment liabilities. A review of financial documents reveals that the Wisconsin governments required to report their liabilities carry nearly $6 billion in future retiree health care costs. Of this amount, the largest three liabilities are carried by governments in the Milwaukee area: the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) district at $2.2 billion, Milwaukee County at $1.5 billion, and the City of Milwaukee at $806.3 million. In many cases, these liabilities dwarf the annual budgets of these governments (for instance, the MPS budget is $1.2 billion, while their liability is $2.2 billion.)
Taxpayers are wondering why they pay more and more in taxes, yet see little direct benefit. This may be a reason why – a growing chunk of the taxes they pay go to people who don’t even workfor the government anymore.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 1:29 pm
Yesterday, Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign wrote an editorial in the Capital Times, arguing Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s lawsuit is a “fool’s mission.” Essentially, McCabe says we shouldn’t enforce the current federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), because it might upset some people (which is kind of the purpose of a lawsuit):
No matter the outcome in court, the one thing his action surely will do is hopelessly divide voters into two camps — those (mostly Republicans) who believe he’s protecting election integrity and those (chiefly Democrats) who think he’s messing with the vote and trying to rig the election for his guy.
Then he starts hitting all the typical lefty talking points – that somehow Florida and Ohio were “stolen” by Republicans:
It is no coincidence that Ohio and Florida were the sites of ugly election controversies in the last two presidential elections that left lingering questions about whether eligible voters were improperly prevented from casting ballots and whether votes were properly counted.
In fact, the federal law Wisconsin is now thumbing its nose at was passed in response to the debacle in Florida. That fact that we remain noncompliant actually ensures that such a disaster (and it is only considered a disaster because Bush won, incidentally) will be more likely to occur. Who knows – our system could be rampant with fraud right now – but because we don’t have a way of accurately checking who is voting, there’s no way to know. Whatever.
Then, McCabe takes personal credit for creating the current mess we’re in:
That’s why it behooves us to make sure political party leaders have no place in running our elections. And it’s why reform groups like the Democracy Campaign fought so hard to pass ethics reform legislation that created a new politically independent agency under the direction of a nonpartisan board of retired judges to administer elections as well as enforce campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws.
Uh, yeah – that “independent” board he’s talking about is the Government Accountability Board (GAB), the same board that refuses to follow the federal law. So it makes perfect sense that he opposes Van Hollen’s lawsuit – the AG is suing McCabe’s personal voter fraud machine.
Yet the most interesting part of McCabe’s message is the messenger himself. Here’s a guy who has an aneurysm when a single legislator fails to report the workplace of a campaign contributor on their finance reports. He’s made his name preying on the carcass of Scott Jensen, arguing he should get the death sentence for breaking a law that actually really doesn’t exist. (This isn’t to say Jensen didn’t do some things that were wrong, they just weren’t technically illegal.)
So I just hope we can get some clarification from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign – just tell us which laws we should enforce with the full power of the state, and which laws we should completely ignore. Somehow, I think they’ll opt to ignore the law that allows the theft of thousands of votes. Just a hunch.
In the extremely unlikely event you didn’t tune in to “UpFront with Mike Gousha” this weekend, I made an appearance to discuss the Republican National Convention. I was joined by Chris Miklos, who attended the Democratic Convention in Denver and also blogged about it for Wispolitics.com.
You can watch the discussion that aired on the broadcast version of the show here.
You can watch a web-only bonus segment we taped here.
Just a bit of housekeeping: Miklos made a couple of statements that deserve a response better than I was able to provide in five seconds:
First, I admit I was a little caught off guard when he played the race card right out of the chute, mentioning how much more “diverse” the DNC was than what he saw on tv at the RNC. I kind of thought we were just there to talk about our experiences, not score partisan points. But I saw plenty of minorities at the GOP convention – in fact, the Wisconsin contingent itself had several.
In the second segment, Miklos defends the blogosphere by pointing out how quickly bloggers uncover certain “facts.” As an example, he used the bloggers “discovering” that Sarah Palin had fought to cut special education funding in schools by 62%. Of course, this is flatly false – they are attributing a budget proposal to Palin that actually came from her predecessor, Frank Murkowski. In fact, Palin increased funding by 175%. I knew the number was bogus, and pointed it out, but didn’t have enough time to fully rebut it. In using numbers like this, Miklos is essentially proving my point – as P.J. O’Rouke said, blogging is free – and worth every cent.
Finally, Miklos says that it was the McCain campaign, not bloggers, that exposed the story about Palin’s pregnant 17 year-old daughter. But, in fact, the McCain campaign had to do so to respond to an internet smear started by bloggers that alleged Palin’s son was actually her daughter’s. While I pointed this out on the show, it seems not to have made a dent in Miklos’ talking point.
I suppose after watching the two pieces, you’d get the idea that I am somehow anti-blogger. As I mention, I think there is a valuable place for blogs – but I do think the decline of newspapers is a terrible thing. While it’s certainly valid to complain about a lot of the content in the mainstream media, they do quite often do outstanding work, and have much more knowledge and resources to investigate certain issues than bloggers do. The day newspapers disappear altogether, it wil almost leave us rudderless as a society.
I’d like to thank both Mike Gousha and Wispolitics.com for allowing me the chance to appear in the past week. It was a great time, and hopefully they let me do it again.
I’ve been up at the Republican National Convention since Monday, blogging for Wispolitics.com. A lot has happened in three days – including me being tear gassed, and a delegate explaining to me why the Easter Bunny is a liberal.