Sunday, September 26, 2010

Don’t cheat the kids

Hi everyone,

The West Bend school district's annual meeting is Monday. Like last year, a group of anti-school anti-tax anti-publicly-funded-anything activists will be making an appearance to argue that there's more fat to cut from the desiccated skeletal remains of the district budget.

There's a name for people like this: civic adolescents.

It's time for the grown-ups stand up to them. The silent majority in my little town isn't conservative or liberal -- they're just silent -- they need to get in the game and speak up for their kids.

Saturday's column.

Don’t cheat the kids
At least show up for annual district meeting

I’m lucky this year. My classrooms are full, as usual, and – as usual – full of darned fine students. In fact, I’m lucky most years. Why is that? Because the teachers and parents in the West Bend school district produce great kids and darned fine students, that’s why.

The truth is, we all have good reasons to feel lucky, even now when the state funding formula threatens the quality of education everyone’s worked so hard to create. For five years running, Newsweek has ranked West Bend high schools among the top 5 percent in the entire country. We’re still one of the most cost-effective districts in Wisconsin and we still have one of the very lowest tax rates in the state; taxes are even lower now than they were in 1993.

All the numbers shout that we’re getting huge bang for our buck and, best of all, the district is creating great students. I know because I’m lucky enough to see hundreds of them every year. We can be proud and hopeful about the future for these students.

But only if we refuse to let it be taken away from them.

The school district’s annual meeting is scheduled for this Monday night at 7 p.m. in the East High School auditorium with the budget hearing set for 6:30 p.m. The School Board has to make some tough decisions and they need your help.

Maybe you’ve never been to a school district meeting, or maybe you have been and all of that angry political noise made you wish you’d stayed home. West Bend seems to have its share of angry anti-school activists these days, all of them screaming for your kids’ programs to be cut in the name of their antitax political ideology. But no kid in West Bend should be the victim of ideology – whether it’s my belief that we have an moral responsibility to prepare kids to compete against China and India or the ideological conviction of the anti-school activists who believe it’s even wrong to spend public money on public education.

No kid should be penalized because adults get into arguments about politics.

So, forget about all of that. Forget the signs and the overly political arguments you don’t even care about. At the end of the day there’s only one thing that you do care about: your kids.

Woody Allen, back when he was still making funny movies, once wrote that “90 percent of life is showing up.” You need to come to the meeting Monday night and show up for your kids.

The district, as you know, is being squashed by cuts in state funding and, especially, by the trick of diverting funding into a school levy “tax credit” which, as my grandma used to say “robs Peter to pay Paul.” It looks like tax relief and, on paper, looks like continued funding to the school district, but it’s all for show – by taking that money out of the funding stream and away from the schools, members from both parties in Madison have set things up to cheat your kids out of the kind of education that made this one of the best performing districts in the state.

Everything except core educational programs have now been cut, so now is the time you have to come in, ignore the political noise, and stand up for your kids rights to the same level of educational excellence the district delivered last year, and the year before that.

A small and vocal group of program-cutting activists keeps insisting that they love their kids too – but you don’t demonstrate that by taking away the right of every kid to a complete education: to band, or football, or art, or foreign languages, or advanced math classes, or by cutting the gifted-and-talented programs. You don’t make a better life for your children by cheating them out of the best education we can afford.

But again, 90 percent of life is showing up. Whether one side of the political debate is louder than the other or manages to score more debating points – or whatever – none of these things matter in the face of what you really care about: your kids.

On Monday night show up and stand up for your kids. If you do, no one will be able to cheat your kids out of the education they deserve, an education you’ve worked so hard to provide.


Bush got it wrong on taxes.

So How Did the Bush Tax Cuts Work Out for the Economy?

The hard, empirical facts:

The tax cuts did not spur investment. Job growth in the George W. Bush years was one-seventh that of the Clinton years. Nixon and Ford did better than Bush on jobs. Wages fell during the last administration. Average incomes fell. The number of Americans in poverty, as officially measured, hit a 16-year high last year of 43.6 million, though a National Academy of Sciences study says that the real poverty figure is closer to 51 million. Food banks are swamped. Foreclosure signs are everywhere. Americans and their governments are drowning in debt. And at the nexus of tax and healthcare, Republican ideas perpetuate a cruel and immoral system that rations healthcare -- while consuming every sixth dollar in the economy and making businesses, especially small businesses, less efficient and less profitable.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Defending Progressivism

A nice reexamination..

Dissent Magazine - Online Features - Defending Progressivism -

In other words, for the umpteenth time in the last two decades, the American Left doesn’t know what it stands for. As has become customary, progressives are waiting for their more organized opponents to define the debate, its terms, and their role in it. They are routinely on the defensive in public debate, even when the facts overwhelmingly support their positions.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

300 economists agree: We really do need a second stimulus and infrastructure investment.

From the folks at Crooks and Liars.

300 economists agree: We really do need a second stimulus and infrastructure investment. But right-wingers just say No

Because there's nothing in it for them -- except a happier society and a happier society don't feed the bear.


Feingold's votes support maverick label - JSOnline

Feingold's votes support maverick label - JSOnline

Feingold's "maverick" reputation is fairly pronounced in Washington, thanks to his crusade for campaign finance reform and penchant for lonely dissents on big votes (a survey of congressional staffers by "Washingtonian" magazine ranks Feingold No. 1 in the category of "lobbyists' enemy").

I imagine this is something that would change dramatically if Johnson were elected. Voters will figure this out pretty soon too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Christine O'Donnell: 'I Dabbled into Witchcraft' but 'I Never Joined a Coven' | Video Cafe

Because many of the founders were Wiccan.

Christine O'Donnell: 'I Dabbled into Witchcraft' but 'I Never Joined a Coven' | Video Cafe

A million dollar tea cup? The "Common Sense" activism against Fair Housing in West Bend.

Hi everyone,

This week, some thoughts about the "Common Sense" activism against fair housing in West Bend.

Saturday's column

A million dollar tea cup
River Bluffs vote may precede tempest

What do you call it when someone’s political and economic principles violate common sense politics and economics? Alderman Steve Hutchins’ principles, on display in last week’s council vote and supposedly grounded on what passes these days for “Common Sense,” could cost taxpayers a million dollars this year – and a million dollars next year, and a million dollars the year after that.

He doesn’t approve, on principle, of housing developments funded with WHEDA tax credits, even socially desirable developments built on land zoned for that purpose. The math is easy. TIF District 5 costs the city about $500,000 a year. (The 2010 budget lists this year’s cost at $573,030.) TIF District 9, where some new senior housing is under consideration (another WHEDA funded project the alderman opposes “on principle”) is budgeted to cost the city $364,963 in 2010.

Fortunately, those projects are still in the pipeline, but think about the cost to us in 2010 had this close vote had gone the other way? That would be $937,993: almost a cool million, and taxpayers will pay approximately this amount each year these TIFs remain undeveloped. But we’re not out of the woods just because the Common Council voted not to rescind the development agreement.

Two general sentiments in opposition to this business project have been visible in the media coverage and council meeting Q&As: 1) a kind of Tea Party fueled allergic reaction to government help for working people (the alderman’s hysterical principles, which include the belief that WHEDA funded housing is not well earned assistance for hard working Americans, but a creepy Nanny-State socialism) and 2) a kind of “we don’t want those people moving into West Bend” xenophobia. While members of the Common Council have avoided uttering the latter explicitly, or at least not in a way that will bring down the wrath of the Federal Housing Act, some of our neighbors have expressed this view in open council meetings.

Both sentiments are the product of the current ideological culture wars and, more simply, fear. Folks, get a grip. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Oh, and possible FHA violations. We should be afraid of those.

In a July council meeting there was an acknowledgement that a form of rental property would work on this site, “just not WHEDA housing” and, since then, we’ve seen comments in the press to the effect that there would be “too many children” in the area. Statements like this could easily be construed as violations of the Fair Housing Act, which, for starters, “prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians).”

I’m just saying.

Oops, and one more. We should also be afraid of a city council that violates Wisconsin’s open meeting law. If a quorum of aldermen discuss this case with each behind the backs of voters — that is, outside of council meetings — even if the conversation is serial (you know, like the game of “Telephone” where one person talks to a person and that person calls another person and so on) they’re in violation of the law. Playing Telephone can form what’s called a “walking quorum.” Sorry to be technical, but technically, that’s conducting the peoples’ business behind the peoples’ backs.

Another player stirring the teacup with print ads is a group of Johnny-come-lately businessmen riding into the newspaper like the cavalry to disrupt the housing development in TIF District 5. They’re late. The area was zoned for multi-family residential housing in 1998. Why didn’t they say anything then? And now they say they’d like to find some alternatives to the WHEDA development, maybe find some businesses to move into the zone? This is nonsense. A well-known, politically and economically savvy business leader in this community beat the bushes for years to encourage businesses to move into that TIF district — during a time when commercial real estate was booming — without success. Why should we expect anything to happen now, during what amounts to a Depression in commercial real estate?

We have no reason to. In fact, reason suggests that this cartel was formed for reasons that have nothing to do with helping businesses move into TIF District 5 but, rather, to keep affordable housing out. So what’s the real reason?

A lot of people would probably like an answer to that question – and some of them work at federal agencies.

On Monday night, the city council failed to pass a motion to rescind the developer’s agreement with REE: a first in West Bend history. Before taking this step, Mr. Hutchins should have asked himself whether he really expects the taxpayers of West Bend to subsidize his principles for nearly a million dollars a year. A lot of taxpayers will be asking themselves that question.

[...and here's the closing paragraph that was cut during final editing for length... I assume length was the reason....]

Of more immediate concern to Alderman Hutchins, however, are his constituents, especially the nice folks who live across the street from REE’s affordable housing development and down the street from the other, proposed, senior housing center on Auxiliary Court. How do the residents of the Enger Kress building -- all of them voters, by the way -- feel now that they know their own alderman would have voted against their beautiful building because he believes WHEDA housing, like theirs, is full of undesirable, low-income, government aid recipients?

They probably feel like voting for someone else.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Glenn Greenwald interviews Sen. Feingold

Interview with Sen. Russ Feingold - Glenn Greenwald -

Even for those who are disillusioned and angry with the Democratic Party, or even apathetic about the outcome generally of the 2010 elections, Russ Feingold is one of the very few candidates whose re-election is genuinely worth caring about. No matter how bad Democrats generally become, Feingold's presence in the Senate provides unique and real value.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Republican Leadership silent on Book Burning

Because they don't want to alienate their base.

Republican Leadership on Book Burning: No Comment

To my dear moderate Republican friends... please take back your party.

Soon would be good.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Burning books in West Bend or Gainesville: same end.

Note to Ginny Maziarka and her cabal.

‎"Wherever people burn books, there, in the end, will they also burn people." - Heinrich Heine, 1821.


Saturday, September 04, 2010

A reminder from Veterans Today that we were lied to.

How's your blood pressure?

Forgotten the lies the way we seem to have forgotten about our injured soldiers?


The Political Line Has Moved so Far Right Reagan Couldn't Run as a Republican

As I keep saying....

Cenk: The Political Line Has Moved so Far Right Reagan Couldn't Run as a Republican | Video Cafe

Reinvesting the school levy tax credit.

Hi everyone,

The answer to our current school district funding squeeze has been a droning chant that sounds like this: "cutcutcutcutcut."

This suggests that we're thinking inside the box. What if there were money that we'd already put into the tax pipeline we could redirect to fix the problem. Wouldn't that be cool?

Well, there is and we can.

Saturday's column.

Reinvest school tax levy credit

When I was 6, my favorite elephant joke was:

Q: How do you get down off an elephant?
A: You don’t, you get down off a duck.

The West Bend School District needs about $2 million to remain solvent but, instead of finding ways to resolve this terrible problem, our local cut-everything cartel keeps trying to get down off an elephant. The shrinking education funding stream, increasingly choked off by its own framing legislation, will accommodate only a shrinking educational experience. It cannot support even an equal level of performance.

We can’t solve a problem by using the same tools that are causing the problem. We need to get down off a duck instead. Here are a few feathers in that direction.

The school levy tax credit, possibly as much as any other factor, has caused the precipitous fall in state contributions to local district funding. Our representatives in Madison nonetheless include this tax credit in their calculation of how much state aid the state provides to schools -- and that's a scam.

No real money goes to the schools or back to you as the taxpayer. What we get instead is a tax credit on our property tax bills, a form of currency those of us accustomed to the state budgeting process call "funny money" -- even though it isn’t funny and it isn’t money.

It’s like paying your money then getting a store coupon or rebate for the same amount. This looks great until you realize that the store has already spent it for you, and on something you didn't want. Clever trick. It allows our state guardians to claim that they're returning money to the taxpayer without having to actually return any money.

Things are even worse if you rent. When you rent, part of your monthly check goes to pay property taxes for the apartment’s owner, so you’re already paying into the system but the levy goes back to your landlord’s property tax bill. As a renter, do you ever see any direct benefit from that? Did your rent drop a few years back when they passed this bill? I’d bet the answer is no.

When the Legislature decided to give money directly back to taxpayers (or, rather, property owners in the form of a tax credit on a property tax bill) the district in West Bend lost about $2.7 million from its budget: roughly the amount the district is currently, and bravely, struggling to find. So far the only solutions we’ve seen involve an increasingly desperate hunt for more programs to cut.

But bleeding the elephant simply means it’ll roll over on to you sooner and finding smarter ways for the school district to survive it’s state-imposed educational anorexia simply condemns the district to death by starvation.

According to a Legislative Finance Bureau memo to Sen. Russell Decker (from Feb. 2, 2010), if we were to shift money from the school levy tax credit back to the equalization aid formula, West Bend would (re)gain $2,784,119 in revenue for the school district.

The Legislature seems unlikely to go back to the old funding formula so what about this: What if local taxpayers could get that money back in the form of real dollars, instead of funny money tax credits and then reinvest that money in the school district? In other words, what if local taxpayers decided to spend that money on the schools? If we did, the district would remain solvent and we wouldn’t have to gut the programs we want to keep our kids competitive in the global economy.

Reinvesting the school levy tax credit would halt the current, legislatively structured, strangulation of district finances. It would more than cover the current short falls and – best of all – it wouldn’t be a new tax, it would be a re-apportionment of money we’ve already put into the pipeline. Plus we’d get to decide how we want it spent, rather than that infamous faceless bureaucrat in Madison.

Crediting our tax levy credit back to its original purpose would buy us time to work out the systemic problems with a funding formula that is pushing poor and, in our case, frugal districts over the cliff ahead of districts like Elmbrook where they can still afford to teach fourth-graders to play the violin while we can’t even afford to fix the roof.

When the deck is stacked, pick another game.


Friday, September 03, 2010

This Week In Ron Johnson Double-Talk (The latest in an ongoing pattern of reinvention)

More goodies from Bidnessman, Ron Johnson.

This Week In Ron Johnson Double-Talk (The latest in an ongoing pattern of reinvention)

And there's the obvious one: why would we trust a businessman to run government as anything but a kind of business rather than as a mode of self-governance?


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Ron Johnson Business Got $4M in Government Aid

As always, guys like this love government hand outs when it's for them, but for regular people: nope.

Ron Johnson Business Got $4M in Special Aid - Local News - Milwaukee, WI - News -

The loans were part of a state-run program in which tax-free bonds are sold to investors, and the proceeds lent to a company at low interest rates. Pacur benefited from the program twice.