April 17, 2014[Madison, Wisc…] After a long and tedious debate on the budget, three special sessions, and hours upon hours on the Assembly and Senate floors, the 2013-14 legislative session finally came to a close this month. To say the last 16 months were hectic would be an understatement.
We saw income and property taxes get cut not once, not twice, but three times. Gov. Scott Walker stood up to the Obama administration and said “No” to the Medicaid expansion. School choice was expanded statewide, BadgerCare was reformed so everyone in poverty has health care, and more than a few ballot integrity bills passed through the legislature.
The State Capitol was also flooded with supporters and opponents of the Common Core State Standards, both sides hotly debated an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin, and we can’t forget our lunch-time entertainment – the Solidarity Singers.
After going over every news story from the past year and a half and taking nominations from you, our readers, the MacIver Institute has put together the winners for the 2014 End of Session Awards.
Here we recognize the best and the worst of the 2013-14 legislative session and the sometimes just plain weird personalities that impacted the public policy debate here in Wisconsin.
And the winners are…
The Bob Jauch “They said what?!?” Award
WINNER: Sen. Bob Jauch
In the past we have called this award the “foot in mouth” award or the “blowhard” award. But, in light of Sen. Bob Jauch’s (D-Poplar) retirement after more than 30 years of public service, we can think of no better way of honoring him than by naming this award after him. We present Jauch with the award for all the outrageous things he has said. Like the time he compared the ticketing of protesters in the Capitol rotunda this summer to the massacre at the protests in Tiananmen Square. Or the time he compared Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) to Joe McCarthy for prosing bills that would add more integrity to our elections. Jauch was also clear in his opposition to a bill that would standardize the hours for early voting. “This is a day in which Putin would be proud of. This is his version of democracy,” Jauch said on the Senate floor. Tiananmen Square, McCarthy and Putin. That is quite the trifecta. Well done, Senator. Well done. Not sure if anyone will be able to live up to your high standards in the future but, then again, there always seems to be a bloviating politician nearby.
A few others did make honorable mention for this award, including Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) for comparing the same standardized voting hours bill to Jim Crow laws; Boyd McCamish, Executive Director of AFSCME District Council 48, for claiming the public union recertification elections were like communist China; and State Superintendent Tony Evers for rallying against legislation to create Wisconsin’s own set of academic standards by calling it a “Waterloo moment” in Wisconsin.
Do they even teach kids about the Battle of Waterloo in our schools anymore?
Outstanding Citizen Legislator Award
WINNER: Rep. Erik Severson
Being a politician was never meant to be a career. But, there are certainly some in our state that have made it that way – Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) comes to mind and his 56 years in office.
There are still some elected officials, however, that have a life and career outside of the state capitol and we commend them for it. This year we honor retiring legislator Rep. Erik Severson (R-Star Prairie) not only for serving just two terms, but for being an emergency room doctor while he did it. Severson came to Madison to get its fiscal house in order. Now with a balanced budget in place, he can get back to his day job of saving people’s lives at the Osceola Medical Center.
Making the honorable mention is Rep. John Klenke (R-Green Bay), an ardent supporter of Wisconsin’s collective bargaining and fiscal reforms, who will be retiring after just two terms in office.
We also want to thank Milwaukee County voters here because they voted by an overwhelming 71 percent majority to make their County Board part time. That is the true spirit of a citizen legislature.
Steel Spine Award
WINNER: Gov. Scott Walker
This was a tough category to pick a winner, but we have to give Gov. Walker this award for his rejection of the Medicaid expansion. It was one of the most hard fought and contentious battles during the budget. There was even a time when it looked like the special interests might overturn the Governor’s decision because two Republican legislators were caught on tape leaning toward accepting the federal funds (more on that below). But, Walker held strong and told the Obama administration “No.” With a federal government trillions in debt and unlikely to keep its funding promises, Wisconsin taxpayers will be reaping the benefits of Gov. Walker’s tough decision for years to come.
For honorable mention, we want to highlight Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Rep. John Jagler (R-Watertown) for there admirable fight for the special needs scholarship despite facing fierce opposition from so-called disability advocates who actually oppose this common-sense bill. When it was removed from the budget, both legislators fought to bring it back as separate legislation. Even though it stalled in committee they continue to fight for parents all across Wisconsin who have been failed by their local schools.
The Commissioners at the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission also deserve credit for standing up to the teachers’ unions and holding annual recertification elections despite the threat of legal action. When the teachers’ unions found out the commissioners would not back down, they went to their pal – Dane County Judge Juan Colas – and had them held in contempt. The Supreme Court overruled that decision and the elections were held shortly after.
Spine of Jell-O Award
WINNER: Joint Committee on Finance Members
Before we highlight one of the bad decisions from the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC), we want to commend them for all the great work they did on the budget. After all, taxes were cut, the Medicaid expansion was turned down and school choice was expanded. But, we have to honor all 16 members of JFC with this award for refusing to make any practical cuts or reforms to the Department of Transportation (DOT) budget. An agreement was unanimously voted on with no public debate that borrowed billions of dollars and didn’t solve the transportation budget’s long-term fiscal problems. We wish some of the fiscal conservatives on JFC would have stood up and said something to the leaders of the committee in public, but it just didn’t happen. Instead, JFC’s vote to kick the can down the road now has DOT Secretary Gottleib traveling the state, sounding alarm bells about the terrible condition of the department’s budget and the imperative need to raise taxes to support our roads. Joint Finance’s weak-kneed decision is clearly setting up a major flashpoint in the next budget. Should we raise transportation taxes or is there a taxpayer-friendly way to run the Department?
In our honorable mention for this category, we bring up Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) and Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) for nearly caving to special interests on the rejection of the federal Medicaid expansion. Both legislators were happy to tell their districts that they disagreed with Gov. Walker on Medicaid and it would have been disastrous for taxpayers if they had succeeded in overriding the Governor.
Friend of the Free Market Award
WINNER: Sen. Tom Tiffany
The first bill that was brought up this session back in January 2013 was legislation that would cut through bureaucratic red tape and make way for a company to consider opening an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin. The mine would create thousands of generation-changing jobs, but costly and unnecessary regulations kept businesses from wanting to invest in Wisconsin. Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) authored the mining legislation and fought tirelessly for it. We commend Tiffany on his dedication to the free market.
Honorable mention goes to Sen. Glenn Grothman and Rep. Dale Kooyenga for authoring legislation that would lessen the requirements for occupational licensing so Wisconsinites can more easily become entrepreneurs and take control of their own lives.
Enemy of the Free Market Award
WINNER: The Haven’s Center at the University of Wisconsin
The city of Madison hosted a conference titled Fighting Forward in June 2013 that was sponsored by the University of Wisconsin’s Haven’s Center. Much of the conference focused on the attendee’s complete and utter disdain for capitalism. One seminar was actually entitled, “Putting Militancy Back Into the Labor Movement.” While event organizers initially tried to argue that no state funding went toward the conference, MacIver’s persistent use of the open records law showed that taxpayer funded employees on taxpayer time using taxpayer resources organized this conference that seeks to tear down our free market system.
Our honorable mention in the category focuses on the state’s archaic ban on joint ownership of cemeteries and funeral homes. Apparently, some special interests and lawmakers believe Wisconsin consumers are too dumb to shop for funeral services all by ourselves without the help of state government. A MacIver study found this ban will cost Wisconsin families $15.5 million and yet the ban on joint ownership continues.
Jedi-Mind Trick Doublespeak Award
WINNER: The University of Wisconsin System
This award goes to the biggest double speaker of them all this session, the UW System. During recent budget debates, the UW has blamed a lack of state funding as the reason for the need to persistently hike tuition. In fact, tuition increased on UW campuses by 120 percent over the last decade. While crying poverty to lawmakers, they forgot to mention the $1 billion slush fund they were hiding from taxpayers. That earned the UW a two-year tuition freeze and a new system President. By the end of this fiscal year in June, the UW System is projected to have just over $1 billion in reserve, so Gov. Walker has called for another two-year tuition freeze. At this point, we wonder if there is anything else UW isn’t telling taxpayers.
We could not get out of this category if we did not mention the outcry for Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) to win this award. Many of our readers were upset with the way the Education Committees handled the issue of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and specifically Sen. Olsen’s role in the defeat of the bills to provide legislative oversight of the standards. They believe Olsen was working against them during the Senate hearing on SB 619 and had no intention of repealing CCSS in the state. A piece of unsolicited advice Sen. Olsen. Common Core opponents are still hopping mad and they feel like no one in Madison takes their concerns seriously.
Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) also deserves to be mentioned. When Krug first ran for state Assembly in 2010, he promised to never “collect one cent of per diem money ever.” While he lived up to his promise in his first term, Krug collected more than $10,000 in per diem in 2013 and recently asserted that he misspoke in 2010. How very convenient.
Most Powerful Capitol Player Award
WINNER: Gov. Scott Walker
When we look at what was accomplished legislatively, Gov. Walker was able to check off almost every goal he had going into the session. Walker wanted to reduce the tax burden on Wisconsin families, check. Walker wanted to reform BadgerCare and reject the expansion of Medicaid, check and check. Walker wanted to expand school choice outside of Milwaukee and Racine, check. Walker wanted to pass entitlement reform, check. Walker wanted to wanted to pass mining legislation, check. One of the only major things to not get accomplished was a comprehensive school accountability bill. However, legislative leaders have promised to work on a bill over the summer and introduce it during the next session. If there is anyone responsible for this session’s agenda, it was Gov. Walker.
We also think Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) deserves a tip of the hat in this category since he was instrumental in the tax reform package during the budget. He increased the size of Walker’s original tax cut, simplified the tax code, and eliminated nearly 20 unnecessary tax credits and deductions. When Rep. Kooyenga began the debate over simplifying the tax code, no one in the Capitol thought he would beat the special interests who had worked so hard to create their individualized tax breaks. Kudos to Kooyenga for this taxpayer win.
Least Powerful Capitol Player Award
WINNER: Sen. Dale Schultz
This award could go to no one other than Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center). When Schultz voted with his Republican colleagues, it didn’t matter because they already had the votes. And when he voted with his Democratic colleagues, it didn’t matter because they didn’t have enough votes. He could have been absent the entire session and nothing would have been different. All along, he kept telling insiders that he was never more popular in his district despite being inconsequential in Madison. Apparently, he was so popular that he decided to immediately retire as soon as a primary challenge became public.
The “Wait, What???” Clueless Award
WINNER: Minimum Wage Protesters
During the chaos in 2011, this award would have been perfect for all the students brought to the Capitol by their teachers to protest Gov. Walker. When asked why they were protesting, most had no clue.
The minimum wage protesters asking for $15 an hour are this year’s winner. To great fanfare, these protestors demonstrated outside fast food restaurants around the state demanding family-supporting wages.What the professional protestors failed to tell these young people about and what the mainstream media missed was this sign outside the Panda Express just a couple blocks away, looking to pay managers $45,000 a year plus benefits. Wait, what??? I thought the protestors said they were stuck in minimum-wage jobs with no opportunity for advancement.
We know this sounds crazy, but getting an entry-level job in fast food might actually lead to more responsibility and higher pay.
We can’t forget to bring up Rep. Jo Casta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) in this category. During last year’s hearing on the mining bill, she seemed utterly confused about the topic of worker training. After representatives from the mining company explained that they would prefer to pay for and carry out the private training of new employees, Rep. Zamarripa asked a few minutes later, why the legislation didn’t include taxpayer money for worker training. Rather than actually listening to the testimony, Zamarripa was clearly more interested in reading from her talking points.
The “I Will Say Anything to Get My Way” Award
WINNER: Sen. Jennifer Shilling
Some people and groups will say anything to pass a bill, kill a bill, or accomplish a goal, even if it isn’t quite true. This session’s I Will Say Anything to Get My Way award goes to Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) for claiming that a teacher in her district was moving to a third-world country to teach because she would make more money there than here in Wisconsin. Shilling was clearly trying to insinuate that Wisconsin paid its teachers less than third-world countries and that my, oh my, education in Wisconsin was crumbling right before our very eyes. What Schilling conveniently forgot to mention during her stunt was that the local teacher going to Columbia would actually be paid less than what she made in Wisconsin, but a federal program that encourages educators to teach abroad would exempt her salary from taxes.
It wasn’t that the teacher would be paid more in Columbia, it was that she was to be TAXED LESS in Columbia. Gee, what a concept Sen. Schilling. Taxed less. Funny, you didn’t seem to be overly concerned about Wisconsinites who actually stay here in Wisconsin being taxed less when Gov. Walker was passing tax cut after tax cut this session. Shameful.
Honorable mention goes to the statewide teachers’ union, WEAC, for making a claim last August that Act 10 was causing more teachers to be fired. We called them out on their lie, and showed that Wisconsin actually hired more teachers in the last year. For some reason, we think WEAC might make a run to win this award in the future. Just call it a hunch.
We also want to mention Jennifer Epps-Addison, Executive Director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, for barging into a committee hearing with about 30 people to hold up shoes in protest of a living wage preemption bill. To get people to the hearing, she claimed in an email to supporters the bill would make living wages around the state illegal. She was willing to do or say anything to kill the bill. In contrast to her claims, the legislation would not make living wage ordinances illegal, they would just have to be paid with local tax dollars.
WINNER: Department of Administration
While it took longer than expected, the state’s Department of Administration launched openbook.wi.gov back in January, an interactive website that allows taxpayers to track spending at most agencies and for every major program. We applaud DOA for the website and hope the 25 million entries are updated regularly. We are not the only ones celebrating the new transparency website. WISPIRG gave Wisconsin an “A-” for transparency, thanks to the website, after the state received a failing grade the year before.
Now, if only local units of government in Wisconsin were so open with their spending.
We also want to mention Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and the CPA Caucus in the legislature for discovering the UW System’s $1 billion surplus during the budget debate last year. It should not be the job of citizen legislators to find surpluses like this, but the professional bureaucrats in Madison, the very professionals whose job it is find financial irregularities, missed this one. Luckily, the CPA Caucus worked diligently to figure out why UW’s financial entries did not add up and Wisconsinites reaped the benefits of their hard work when a tuition freeze was passed despite the protests of the bureaucrats.
Cloak of Darkness Award
WINNER: Sen. Jon Erpenbach
We could think of no one more fitting for this award than Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). Three years ago, MacIver requested, using the open records law, unredacted emails sent to his office during the capitol chaos. Just this month, the Court of Appeals finally agreed with MacIver that Sen. Erpenbach cannot ignore the law and selectively choose what public information he will turn over to us. While we are not going to hold our breath that we will get the documents anytime soon, we hope that this lawsuit brings more transparency to how our government operates.
Honorable mention of this category goes to the authors of Senate Bill 526, a bill that would restrict the information available to the public on the court’s internet database, CCAP. Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma) authored the bill and it is a step in the wrong direction. Thankfully, the bill did not pass this session.
We also want to mention one of our biggest fans, UW Professor Joel Rogers. Rogers is the head of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, a liberal think tank based at UW-Madison. He recently was in hot water after Media Trackers reported that he was actively trying to ignore a legitimate open records request. A UW Professor should not be trying to find ways to sidestep the open records law and the sunlight of transparency.
Taxpayer Villain Award
WINNER: Senate Democrats
It is clear that the Senate Democrats were not on the side of taxpayers during the most recent budget debate. While their Assembly counterparts failed to introduce any amendments (aside from Rep. Hulsey), the Senate Democrats wanted to increase spending by $1.64 billion and taxes by $646 million. We would bet taxpayers preferred the $650 million tax cut in the budget that Gov. Walker and the Republican legislature gave them.
And, how could we not mention Sen. Erpenbach again for hiring a private law firm to represent him in our open records lawsuit. Instead of working with the Department of Justice – at no additional cost to the taxpayer – the private law firm he hired has cost taxpayers $170,000.
We also need to highlight the odd pairing of Sen. Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) and Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton), who up until last week were running against each other for Ellis’ Senate seat. Before Sen. Ellis recently announced his retirement, the two were a team when it came to creating a Regional Transit Authority for the Fox Valley. A regional transit authority is, in reality, an unelected body that can raise taxes on residents without the threat of voter consequence. With an RTA, local politicians get a tax to pay for their pet transportation projects while state officials just shrug their shoulders “it’s not us” when their constituents express outrage with the new local tax. Everyone wins except you, the taxpayer. The Fox Valley RTA bill ultimately went nowhere in the legislature and taxpayers rejoiced.
Taxpayer Hero Award
WINNER: Gov. Scott Walker
This award is the most important award that we will give away this session. We Wisconsin taxpayers, know all too well, that there is still more work to be done to bring our taxes in line with what we can afford to pay. The more we have to pay in taxes, the less money we have to start a new business, the less our entrepreneurs have to hire a neighbor to expand the second shift, the less money our families have to put food on the table, and the less we have to support the hard-working charities that care for the less fortunate.
And that is why Governor Walker is the clear choice for the 2013-2014 Taxpayer Hero award.
When he was first elected, Walker vowed not to raise taxes and keep spending in check. With the passage of Act 10, spending has been reined in and state government is slowly becoming more efficient. After a tough first budget, Walker has seen vast improvements in revenue allowing him to give multiple tax breaks to Wisconsinites. Walker passed a $650 million income tax cut in the budget and froze property taxes, but he wasn’t finished. New revenues allowed Walker to cut property taxes by more than $500 million and income taxes by another $100 million.
And with the talk of more tax reform next session, Gov. Walker may well be on his way to winning back-to-back Taxpayer Hero awards.
Overall, it was a great session for Wisconsin. Every winner in our End of Session Awards is very deserving and we congratulate them (well not all of them). If you have additional thoughts on the awards, please feel free to leave them in the comments section.