Filed under: Reports — Christian Schneider @ 12:43 pm
At the same time WPRI is releasing a study demonstrating the superiority of public pension programs over private plans, similar fights are brewing around the country. Take Fairfax County, Virginia (my home county, incidentally), which is proposing raising taxes specifically to fund higher benefits for teachers: (Via Reason)
“The FCTA asked why the school board is urging the supervisors to raise taxes by $81.9M although only $9M is needed to pay for next year’s expected increase in student enrollment.
“The school superintendent acknowledged that the reason is the increased cost in employee benefits, especially pensions. According to the schools’ proposed FY2011 budget, employee benefits costs are increasing by $98M, of which $71M is for pensions and another $15M is for retiree medical benefits.
Hard-fact time: Taxpayers everywhere are shelling out many, many, many more real dollars per student for public education than they were 30 years ago (with no clear improvements in outcomes [see this and this]). Indeed, inflation-adjusted costs per pupil have gone up over 200 percent since 1970, while student achievement is flat (at best). Can you think of any other part of your life (especially one in the private sector) where you are paying twice as much for the same freaking outcome? Say what you will about rising medical costs, but the pills that cure our ills nowadays are so much better…
As we’ve noted here, this is a story that is only going to gain in regularity as the gap between public-sector and private-sector compensation grows (public-sector already has a 70 percent advantage!) and as private-sector workers increasingly fund their own retirements via 401(k)s.
We do a good bit of polling here at WPRI, and it’s fairly rare that we see really extreme numbers on any issue. (The only one that comes to mind is that 6% of Wisconsin residents think their elected officials are working in the interests of the voters. Yikes.)
So it comes as news that only 6% of respondents in a recent New York Times/CBS poll believe that the federal stimulus bill passed a year ago actually created jobs. SIX PERCENT. I would bet that if you took a poll right now, ten percent of Americans think Barack Obama is from Jupiter.
In fact, I looked for other parallels – take, for example, this Zogby poll from 2007, in which 4.6% of respondents said they believe certain U.S. government elements actively planned or assisted some aspects of September 11, 2001 attacks. So about the same number of people believe the stimulus created jobs as believe Dick Cheney was on a headset barking orders to the 9-11 terrorists.
(In fact, the group that believed the U.S. was behind the attacks the most were those with only a high school education (9.6%). Go to college, kids.)
In somewhat related news, over at Pollster.com, Charles Franklin explains how two starkly different charts can explain the same phenomena. This is a response to a chart that had been floating around the internet purporting to show the unemployment situation getting much better under President Obama than it had been under George W. Bush.
Here are the two relevant charts:
Franklin sums it up:
The OfA chart gives the impression that we have “returned” to where we were in January 2008. The sharp rise since February 2009 gives the impression that what was lost in red has now been regained in blue. But of course, that isn’t right. The rate of loss has indeed slowed tremendously in the first year of the Obama administration, something the White House has every right to crow about. But that doesn’t mean we’ve returned to previous employment levels. In fact, we’ve continued to sink lower throughout the last year, just at a slower and slower rate…
Same data, two charts, two different impressions, both fundamentally true yet also fundamentally misleading in opposite ways. When data and politics mix beware the power of graphs to imply their own conclusions, even with the same data. And appreciate the rhetorical success of a graph that does it’s creator’s bidding.
So it seems the entirety of Wisconsin’s press corps (pronounced “core” for aspiring presidential candidates) is interested in where Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan has been privately introducing his motions. When initially asked by reporters whether he was dating a lobbyist with pending interests before the Legislature, Sheridan denied it, saying the two were just “friends.” A day later, Sheridan conceded that, in fact, the two were dating – but the damage had been done. He lied to the media – and once you do that, you’re like a mouse dropped into a snake pit. Reporters around the state are now digging around Sheridan’s campaign finance reports to see whether he was wining and dining his ladyfriend with his campaign funds. Had he come clean at the time, this would be a two day story – instead, he’s hemorrhaging political capital.
I haven’t written anything about this yet, because I just figured Sheridan’s dating habits weren’t really my business. Generally, these workplace rules about who two grown adults can or can’t date are nonsense. They essentially just mean “don’t get caught.” (Incidentally, there could have been a state law mandating someone from my workplace date me, and I wouldn’t have been able to find someone to go out with.)
Furthermore, I guess I was just willing to give the Legislature the benefit of the doubt and say they weren’t passing this payday loan bill because it’s a terrible bill. (After all, Shanna Wycoff’s love couldn’t have been so powerful that it kept the Democrat-controlled Senate from passing a bill, too? OR COULD IT?)
But it is interesting how the issue has been portrayed in the press since Sheridan came clean about the relationship. Here there was a bill to regulate businesses – that actually occasionally throw a lifeline to people with credit so bad they can’t even get a checking account. (Full disclosure: I actually used one of these payday loan places during college, when my credit was abysmal. Banks would actually send goons out front to tackle me before I even walked in the front door.)
But, of course, here comes a bill to stop people from freely engaging in contracts to which they happily agreed. And because the bill was stopped cold, reporters and good government groups immediately blamed it on Sheridan’s conflict of interest. Our favorite good government lefty immediately chimed in:
“There’s no way the public will ever buy his argument that his relationship will have no effect on his handling of the payday loan legislation,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of government watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Now, however, because of Sheridan’s conflict of interest, the Assembly feels like they have to pass the bill, to counter allegations that they’re corrupt. Assembly Democrats claim that it’s pure coincidence that this bill is now moving like a cheetah on ice skates, after being a corpse two weeks ago. (Again, pronounced “corpse.”) Now, suddenly, the will of the people is being served – and forget about why that may be. Nothing to see here.
So in case you’re keeping track at home: Holding up a liberal bill because the Speaker of the Assembly has a girlfriend is corruption. Passing the same liberal bill because the Speaker of the Assembly has a girlfriend is just GOOD GOVERNMENT.
Naturally, now that the bill is moving, you won’t hear a word from any of these co-called “corruption watchdogs,” despite the bill only seeing action for the same reason it didn’t see any action before. Their level of outrage is directly commensurate to the amount they agree with the legislation being held up. Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the bill passing through a committee is curiously lacking any good government group quotes.
So while I generally give Sheridan a pass, it is worth noting that he tends to be the kiss of death wherever he goes. He was a union leader at the General Motors plant in Janesville, which is now defunct. Then he took over the speakership of the Assembly, which immediately took a bad budget and made it worse. And if he stays on as Speaker, it almost seems likely that the Assembly will flip back into Republican hands under his watch. So while this “scandal” may not be that big of a deal to some, it could end up costing him his political career if reporters start to come back with actionable intelligence on his nationwide trysts.
Filed under: Legislation — Christian Schneider @ 11:56 am
Former Wisconsinite George Leef has written an excellent article for the Cato Institute that discusses “prevailing wage” laws for public projects. (Wisconsin is a prevailing wage state.) Prevailing wage laws essentially set the wages workers may earn on public projects, usually ones in which the labor not subject to a public bidding process.
In the article, Leef argues that rather than promoting the public interest, prevailing wage laws serve only to further the interests of labor. He concludes:
The purpose and effect of prevailing wage laws is to eliminate competition on labor costs on government construction projects.
Bidders may search for the least-cost combination of other factors, but labor costs are fixed by decree. This suppression of competition is a substantial benefit to a small segment of the population, chiefly construction unions and workers, at the expense of the rest of society, which must pay more than would otherwise be necessary for projects subject to prevailing wage mandates.
Efforts by prevailing wage proponents to depict the laws as having some social benefit fail. Fixing the price of labor does nothing to increase safety, train new workers, promote quality or any other desirable objective. Nor is there any social benefit in “protecting” union wage standards and work rules from competitive pressure.
Prevailing wage laws are special interest legislation trying to masquerade as wise public policy. People prefer to minimize or eliminate competition in markets where they sell, while enjoying the benefits of competition in markets where they buy. Prevailing wage laws are one of the various approaches organized labor uses to shut down competition in labor markets. Adam Smith was correct: It is bad public policy for government to assist any group of sellers in their desire to fix prices and stifle competition. That is why all prevailing wage laws should be repealed.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 12:07 pm
Over the past few years, we’ve had plenty of discussion in Wisconsin about how we should vote – should we require photo ID? Should we use electronic voting machines? Allow early voting? And despite all this discussion, it seems difficult to change anything, as these laws are so ingrained in our tradition.
But with all of this information floating around, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that there are other states out there that have completely different voting systems. A friend of mine pointed out this website from North Carolina, where you actually have to declare yourself a member of a party. You can go to that website, search for any registered voter in North Carolina, and you’ll get their name, address, how often they vote, and what party they belong to.
Naturally, there are plenty of states that require voters to register with a political party. But can you imagine the heads exploding in Wisconsin if the state proposed to make voters’ party preferences public? There’d be a riot. Wisconsin is, after all a state where lawmakers even object to having individuals’ criminal records posted online. It seems that in our state, people are more reticent about disclosing something as private as their party identification. (And if you’re a Republican living in Madison, or Democrat living in Waukesha County, keeping your party preference on the DL may be mere survival.)
So let’s take this thing for a spin. Think of famous North Carolinians:
It appears Ralph Dale Earnhart, Jr. is a REPUBLICAN.
Not surprisingly, John and Elizabeth Edwards are DEMOCRATS.
Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover model Brooklyn Decker is a REPUBLICAN.
There are too many Michael Jordans to know which one is the real one.
Julius Peppers of the Carolina Panthers is a DEMOCRAT.
Anyway, you get the idea. Feel free to go look up your favorite North Carolinian.
Today, Professor of Nothing Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign bemoans how the University of Wisconsin System is losing its “Progressive” tradition. Having already demonstrated his lack of understanding of campaigns, law, and the U.S. Constitution, McCabe is now determined to embarrass himself in another venue – higher education. One would think that McCabe would lay low after being completely obliterated in public by Wisconsin Supreme Court justice David Prosser, but he seems hell bent on further discrediting himself.
This is actually the first time we’ve heard from McCabe since he declared the U.S. Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision (in Citizens United vs. FEC) to be as bad as the famous Dred Scott decision, which codified segregation in the U.S. for the next 100 years. Certainly, blacks who were attacked with fire hoses and police dogs during desegregation share a kinship with McCabe, since having to watch a few extra campaign commercials seems to be just as oppressive. (It is likely that McCabe’s legal expertise led him to invoke Dred Scott merely because it was a case that he had heard of.)
But now, McCabe is chafing because a professor at the UW (Ken Goldstein) has dared to do the unthinkable – he actually has been conducting research that conflicts with the storyline the WDC has been trying to sell to its contributors. Goldstein has demonstrated that in cases where negative advertising occurs, voters not only know more about the candidates, they actually show up at the polls in greater numbers. Naturally, McCabe sees this as a threat, since it would mean he’s for less informed voters that vote more infrequently. (Which, as it turns out, he is.)
Rather than defending his own indefensible positions, McCabe lashes out the only way he knows how – by saying the UW is “as owned as our politicians.” He says:
But instead of challenging the status quo and engineering new reforms and working with public officials to make those reforms a reality, most of the political scientists on campus are missing in action. Some of the most prominent among them are apologists for the way things are and throw their weight around on behalf of the very forces that have corrupted our politics and sullied Wisconsin’s once-proud reputation.
The UW System has 6,032 professors. ONE PROFESSOR conducts a study that conflicts with McCabe’s fairy tale, and suddenly the whole system is corrupt? (Goldstein is likely thankful people think he single-handedly has enough influence to undo 150 years of Progressive tradition at the UW.) Perhaps all the other faculty members should run their rigorous scientific studies by scholar Mike McCabe to determine whether they’re corrupt or not. (Of course, how “corrupt” you are is 100% proportional to how much you stray from the “Progressive” tradition of the UW – i.e., how conservative you are. If the UW keeps cranking out liberal studies, then there’s nothing to see, keep moving. That’s academic rigor for which the UW should strive.)
Of course, nobody knows research like McCabe, whose bogus “reports” would be laughed out of any community college in America. Maybe next, McCabe can poke his nose into the UW Medical School to start telling them which of their medical research methods are acceptable in the “Progressive” tradition.
Since it’s always fun to take a trip down memory lane, let’s take a look at some of McCabe’s greatest hits:
He complains about how organizations that don’t disclose their funding sources attempt to change state law, yet he doesn’t disclose his own donors, and travels around the state in favor of things like single payer health care.
He complains about the negativity in campaign advertising, yet openly dreams about poisoning Wisconsin Supreme Court justices.
This is just a small sampling of the WDC’s incomprehensible recent history. I’m sure UW professors, who mostly have Ph.Ds, enjoy being lectured on research ethics by a failed former Assembly candidate who will take any position that fits his storyline at any given time.
Word comes today that they’re building a statue of former Milwaukee Brewer owner Bud Selig outside Miller Park. Of course, Selig is known for blackmailing Brewer fans into building a new stadium, then cutting the team’s payroll, when he claimed publicly he would do just the opposite. Oh yeah, and he served as major league commissioner during an era when virtually all the major players’ numbers are going to have to be wiped from the books.
About a year ago, I wrote a column discussing why we don’t build statues of important people anymore. Everyone we honor either comes from the world of sports (Lombardi), is a fictional character (the Fonz), or spent their life as a circus animal. Political figures are almost never honored with a statue anymore. For example, in the City of Madison, there is no statue of James Madison. There is, however, a statue of Wisconsin Badger athletic director Barry Alvarez.
The Wisconsin landscape is replete with statues. Abraham Lincoln casts a watchful eye over the UW-Madison campus from his perch on Bascom Hill. (Presumably, watching modern students emancipate shots of Jose Cuervo from State Street bar drink specials.) Hans Christian Heg, the highest-ranking Wisconsin soldier killed in the Civil War, was honored in 1926 with a statue outside the Wisconsin Capitol. Certainly more recognizable to Wisconsin residents is Vince Lombardi, immortalized by a statue outside Lambeau Field. Jean Nicolet, credited as being the first white man to set foot in Northeast Wisconsin, is memorialized with a statue in Red Banks. (It is also rumored that after settling near Green Bay, Nicolet was the first man to call for Ted Thompson to be s-canned for running Brett Favre out of town.)
Despite these notable figures being immortalized by statues, it is curious that most of them were built nearly a century ago (Lombardi being the exception, but he’s a sports icon.) When reflecting on the significance of the Fonzie statue, it seems reasonable to ask: Why don’t we honor legitimately important people with statues anymore?
It is clear the public has completely lost faith in its elected leaders. WPRI conducts annual polls that measure citizens’ views of their elected officials, and their approval rating has never been worse. Plus, there are “good government” groups whose only reason to exist is to convince the public that their public servants are corrupt. And in the infrequent event they’re right, it sullies the name of all public officials, whether truly deserved or only marginally deserved.
In fact, this disdain for public figures is so strong, it appears to be retroactive. Good luck trying to pay tribute to any of our Founding Fathers these days, as most of them were white slave owners. One can only imagine the opposition to building a statue of James Madison in our state’s capital, which just happens to be named after him. As a result, Madison features a statue of football coach Barry Alvarez, but not the author of the Bill of Rights.
Second, there simply aren’t the huge issues out there to be solved that would warrant a modern politician the adulation necessary for a statue. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, General George Washington saved our country from the British, and Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jim Doyle addressed the closing of the Janesville auto plant by rapping.
There appears to be a strong correlation between what people think about their elected officials and their desire to memorialize them with a statue. The days of universal admiration for our public servants is long gone – as are the great issues they stared down, with steely fortitude. Instead, we now pay tribute to non-threatening fictional characters, sports figures, and deadly circus animals. Sadly, as our society becomes more and more fractured, elephants crushing clowns seems the be the only thing we can all get behind.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 9:18 am
My new column for WPRI is up over at their website. It discusses the pros and cons of a potential presidental run by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. Here’s a snippet:
Ryan came by his success the right way: by knowing a lot of stuff. He doesn’t appear to be the type to weasel his way into House leadership by cutting back room deals. He has forced his way into meaningful positions simply because he is a pencil-necked tour de force.
As such, he thinks that if only voters saw what he did, they would turn their thinking around. And if the polls on Congress’ stimulus package and health care reform bills are any indicator, citizens are doing just that.
When it was clear the Republican brand was ailing, Ryan didn’t abandon his principles – he doubled down on a “Roadmap for America’s Future” plan that reformed many of the federal government’s entitlement programs. For years, even staunch conservatives have avoided issues like Social Security and Medicare as if they were garage sale underwear. Yet Ryan figured we were grown up enough to handle the bad news, and had the foresight to propose real solutions. Thus, when things started to shift the Republicans’ way, he has come out the back end smelling like a rose – with intellectual gravitas earned by sticking to his guns during the worst of times for his party.