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As I See It

As I See It

Wisconsin's longest running daily commentary, a daily tradition since 1971.

There are plenty of issues on which to campaign in the Wisconsin Governor's race. Whether the Foxconn deal is good for Wisconsin taxpayers, what to do about our crumbling roads, how much to fund education. All are issues in the race between Governor Scott Walker and challenger Tony Evers. But what we've been hearing on the campaign trail lately has nothing to do with the important issues facing Wisconsinites. Instead, the latest debate is about the National Anthem. In a page straight from the Trump playbook, Governor Walker has tweeted that he wonders whether Evers believes in standing up for the flag as a show of respect for our service members. Walker's running mate, Rebecca Kleefisch, took it a step further, accusing Evers running mate Mandela Barnes, a black man, of not only supporting protesting during the anthem, and even claiming that Barnes himself took a knee during the playing of the anthem at the opening ceremonies for the Wisconsin State Fair. She offers no evidence, but claims that is what someone told her. The fact is, what people should do during the anthem is not an issue in the race to determine who should be the next Wisconsin Governor. Whoever sits in that office isn't going to pass a law dictating what people should do during the playing of our national anthem. The candidates need to focus on the real issues in this campaign, and there are plenty of them.

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Tuesday - September 18, 2018 5:57 am

Does your candidate support fair elections?

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The fight is currently in the courts. But a better battle would likely be at the polling booths. The United States Supreme Court was the most recent stop in the fight over the drawing of legislative boundaries in Wisconsin. The high court did not rule on the merits of the case, whether Wisconsin's political maps were unconstitutional, drawn to benefit one political party over the other. Instead, they said the plaintiff in the case lacked legal standing, and sent the case back to federal court. Those who brought the lawsuit are now planning to refile the case, with new plaintiffs. But as we have seen, these court fights take time. Perhaps a better way to ensure Wisconsin adopts a more fair process for determining legislative boundaries is to vote for candidates who have pledged to support the Iowa model, which removes partisanship from the process. 52 candidates for the Wisconsin Legislature running in the November election vow to support a fair redistricting process. Getting them into office could be the best way to bring change. We can't rely on current leadership in the Legislature. They won't even hold a public hearing on the issue. So before you cast your vote in November, find out if the candidates support a fair election, or one which is rigged to benefit one political party over another.

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Monday - September 17, 2018 5:57 am

Congress once again does the bare minimum

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Congratulations Congress. Once again our elected officials in Washington have managed to do only the bare minimum requirements of their job, but nonetheless are patting themselves on the back over their accomplishment. Congress has largely agreed to a series of federal spending bills that would keep the government operating after September 30 when current funding runs out. That will, assuming President Trump signs the bills into law, prevent another government shutdown. Only in Washington is it considered surprising that Congress is actually doing its job. But Congress is simply spending our money without trying to figure out if that is money well spent. And the process was easier this time around, with an additional $153 billion to the total funding level. Can we really assume that every government program these spending bills fund deserves even more of our money? When was the last time Congress passed a budget that contained less federal spending? The pricetag on this spending bill has reached $857 billion, providing an additional $20 billion in spending for the Pentagon. It is good Congress has come to an agreement on federal spending, but the answer shouldn’t automatically be to spend more of our money to get it done.

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Friday - September 14, 2018 9:24 am

Mayor's strong arm tactics over pool unnecessary

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Mayor Tim Kabat seems like a nice guy, with the best interests of the city at heart. But he is choosing to play hardball over plans for a new Memorial swimming pool on the UW-La Crosse campus. For the past two summers, that pool has been shut down, due to costly and ongoing maintenance issues. There was a huge neighborhood effort to convince the city to rebuild that pool in its current location. Studies were done, designs made, and estimates gathered. The city agreed to rebuild the pool, and was willing to spend up to $3.9 million to get it done. The estimated pricetag came in lower than that, at $3.1 million. But still Kabat isn't ready to commit city funding to getting the pool built next year. In his proposed spending plan for the city, Kabat wants to only pay for part of the pool next year, with the remaining funds to be distributed the following year. That would mean another summer with no swimming pool. But the troubling part of the Mayor's plan is that the city would only commit the remaining money after the neighborhood raises $500,000 on its own for the pool project. It seems he is holding that neighborhood hostage. As Council member Jessica Olson points out, it is not the neighbor's fault that the pool fell into disrepair and was not properly maintained. This is not like an agreement with a developer where the city pays some and the developer pays some. We're talking about a neighborhood, which simply wants a place for their kids to splash and play. The city should commit to funding Memorial pool in its entirety, and stop strong-arming parents who want something nice for their kids.

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At first, they didn't even ask the state for help. Now paper maker Kimberly Clark says Wisconsin lawmakers must act quickly if they hope to save hundreds of jobs in the Fox Valley. The paper maker announced in January its plans to close two plants in that part of the state, putting more than 600 people out of work. Some Madison politicians, in the wake of the historic Foxconn incentive package, thought the state should help Kimberly Clark too. Kimberly Clark wisely jumped at the opportunity for free cash, and said if the legislature could craft a deal, they would keep one of their Wisconsin plants open. That deal is having a hard time getting done, and right now there is no package to vote on. Kimberly Clark says it needs to have a deal in place by the end of this month or the plant will have to close. But Wisconsin lawmakers aren't currently in session, and aren't scheduled to be for the rest of the year. The Governor could call a special session, but its not clear the votes are there. That may be for the best. This package would cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $100 million over 15 years. The state can't afford to keep using our money to bail out troubled companies. If they do, it likely won't take long before other Wisconsin companies start sticking their hands out looking for their share.

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Wednesday - September 12, 2018 9:48 am

Pay to park on La Crosse streets an unnecessary idea

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Finding a spot to park near La Crosse's college campuses can be a struggle. But a plan to deal with that congestion is raising some eyebrows. The city's Board of Public Works is being asked to approve a new pay to park program for streets near UW-La Crosse and Western Technical College. Right now, anyone can park on those streets for free. But finding a spot can be tricky, especially for people who live there, with coveted parking spots often gobbled up by students heading to class. The plan under consideration would charge those students one dollar per hour to park on the street. Residents living in those neighborhoods would be able to continue to park for free. The thought is students wouldn't want to pay to park on the street, so they would instead park in nearby parking ramps, which are typically under-utilized. This seems rather discriminatory, given that these are public streets. Can we really charge some people to park on the street, while allowing others to continue to park there for free? The city already has a program allowing La Crosse residents to obtain parking permits allowing them to ignore the two-hour parking signs on their block without risk of getting a ticket. What would this new program accomplish that the current system does not? The answer is to raise money. And how long will it be before everyone, not just students, have to pay to park on city streets, even in front of their own homes?

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Tuesday - September 11, 2018 6:00 am

Gov Walker remains a frequent flier, at our expense

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Look, up in the air, its...Governor Scott Walker. Wisconsin's Governor has become a frequent flier as he tries to win a third term in office. Walker took 322 flights in a state airplane just last year. Since he dropped out of the presidential race in 2015, Walker has taken nearly 1000 trips in a state airplane, all of them at taxpayer expense. That cost now totals $934,000 and counting. The increased airtime came as Walker was trying to re-connect with Wisconsin voters after his failed presidential bid. It is not illegal for Wisconsin's Governor to travel in a state airplane. But the volume of flights should sound some alarms. Walker's nearly 950 taxpayer funded flights is much higher than that of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who tops the list of flights by Governors of our largest state. Wisconsin isn't on that list but Walker's flight total is 65% more than Cuomo's. Some of Walker's trips may have been faster by car. His taxpayer funded flights have been as short as 24 miles between Appleton and Green Bay. Walker's itinerary has seen him take as many as six flights in a single day. On more than 30 occasions, he took five plane rides in a day. It would be hard to believe all of these are official visits, in no way related to his campaign. If Walker isn't going to ground himself, Wisconsin should follow the lead of other states such as California, Florida and Texas, where Governors are required to fly commercial. They can only use state airplanes in the event of an emergency. With a pricetag of nearly $1 million to Wisconsin taxpayers, we can't afford to keep shuttling our Governor from one photo op to another.

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Monday - September 10, 2018 9:25 am

Where is La Crosse's missing road money?

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Things have suddenly gotten rather confusing concerning road money in Wisconsin. Somehow, the state can’t seem to account for millions of dollars in federal road funding. At issue is what is called Service Transportation Block Grants. This is money designated by the federal government for road projects which is funneled through the Department of Transportation to local communities throughout the state. But millions of those dollars never made it to local communities. Statewide, cities and towns are still waiting for $45 million allocated by the federal government for road projects in Wisconsin. And no one can seem to explain where that money went. La Crosse is due to receive more than $800,000 of this federal money that never arrived. Lawmakers are demanding an investigation into the missing money. Meanwhile, the state Transportation Department has yet to explain the missing money. The agency says it is working on a response. It better be a good one. La Crosse and many other cities in the state are struggling with cuts to local road funding. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, and the state hasn’t developed a sustainable road funding formula. Now those in charge of our roads can’t even seem to keep track of $45 million that would go a long way to help fix our roads.

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School is back in session in Wisconsin, and unfortunately that means more of our tax dollars being used to fund private education for a growing number of students. Wisconsin’s school voucher program has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars in education spending away from public schools. According to a report from the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau Wisconsin taxpayers have spent almost $270 million to provide a private education to voucher schools since the start of the year. We spent $475 million between 2015 and 2017 on vouchers, at a time when state spending on public schools declined by $150 million. Since the program began, taxpayers in Wisconsin have spent over $2.5 billion on voucher schools. We are talking real money here. Yet these voucher schools have no better track records than public schools, and aren’t held to nearly the same standards on measures like tracking student performance. So while taxpayers continue to spend and spend on financing private education, our public schools increasingly are turning to referendum to keep their doors open. Public schools are the great equalizer. Our lawmakers in Madison should properly fund our public schools to make sure that all students in Wisconsin have the same opportunity to learn.

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The headline is frightening. “Wisconsin corrections officials don't have current info for nearly 3000 sex offenders.” That is a scary thought, but the headline may be somewhat misleading. There are more than 25,000 names on the state of Wisconsin's sex offender registry, which is an alarming number. A report by the independent Legislative Fiscal Bureau finds that of those 25,000 offenders, 2735 of these people, all convicted of sexual crimes, are considered non-compliant with the registry. But that doesn't mean they have all run off and hidden somewhere. There are a number of issues that can make someone on the sex offender list non-compliant, including not updating their place of employment with the state. It could be that they have moved and have yet to update that information with the state. Of the nearly 3000 considered non-compliant, 308 of them are considered to have absconded. That is a high number, but it seems most of those considered non-compliant simply need to update their paperwork. And there is some comfort in knowing that the highest risk offenders are tracked by the Department of Corrections 24 hours a day. And the state refers hundreds of cases each year to district attorneys for prosecution. Critics are laying the blame for the number of sex offenders considered non-compliant at the feet of Governor Scott Walker. But the fact is the percentage of those Wisconsin sex offenders considered non-compliant has dropped in recent years. It is alarming that hundreds of sex offenders are nowhere to be found despite state efforts to track them, but it is not as if nothing is being done about it.

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