Top Ten Under-Reported Stories of 2017

December 18, 2017

With so many different ways to get the news these days, it’s amazing what slips through the cracks. Too often the most important stories get the least coverage. Fortunately, MacIver News is there to pick up the slack. Here’s our list of the most important stories of 2017 that received the least amount of mainstream media attention – if any. Each one has the potential for big implications in the daily lives of Wisconsin’s residents, starting with number 10…

10. School Board Members Survive Recall Election Over Consolidation

If you didn’t know about the school board members who survived attempts to recall them for votes in favor of school consolidation, we don’t blame you.

The campaign to recall the two River Valley School Board members who voted to close two elementary schools with declining enrollment ended in failure in late May. “We’ve been told there are a lot of districts around the state watching how this plays out, because they’re facing very similar situations,” Mark Stronzinsky told MacIver News at the time. In December, the school board voted to close the elementary schools in Lone Rock and Arena. Both have experienced steep declining enrollment over the past several years.

The story received no media coverage, but it’s an important story because, as Stronzinsky said, the trend of declining enrollment in many rural districts will force similar hard choices elsewhere.

9. No Way, PFA

When lawmakers tried to squeeze in a last-minute provision giving more power to the shadowy Public Finance Authority, MacIver News grew suspicious. Not many others in the general press were. It turns out the PFA, known as the bonding house of last resort, wanted eminent domain authority. A bill submitted during the waning hours of the long state budget debate, would have given the PFA such power and more. The proposal was eventually thwarted by a few angry senators and the spotlight MacIver put on it.

8. Whistleblower UW-P Professor Begins Appeal For Her Job

UW-Platteville professor Sabina Burton has spent much of 2017 fighting for her job. After being barred from campus and facing specious accusations from campus administrators that she behaved “unprofessionally,” Burton was hauled in front of a “kangaroo court” in September and forced to testify to save her job. The attempt to drive her off campus, Burton claims, is retaliation for her blowing the whistle on inappropriate behavior by a male colleague toward a female student. Her conservative views also make her a target, she says.

Don’t look for this sordid story of workplace retaliation by a cadre of liberal administrators in the mainstream media, though.

7. Secret Three Tier Proposals

When secretive special interests anonymously peddled a “three-tier” alcohol industry proposal that would run small craft brewers, distillers, and wineries out of business, it took a concerted effort by some, including MacIver, to expose the nefarious plot.

To their credit, the progressive Capital Times reported on the proposal when it surfaced. But the powerful special interests pushing this protectionist policy would likely not have been stopped by the otherwise scant attention the story garnered.

Fortunately for countless craft brewers in the state’s budding microbrew industry, legislators came under intense pressure despite the dearth of coverage in the mainstream media and the draft policy idea remained just that: an unfinished draft. For now, at least.

6. Insidious IRS Pays Up

The insidious Internal Revenue Service was finally made to pay for its targeting of conservative groups during the Obama administration. We all remember the upswell of right-of-center groups that formed in opposition to President Obama’s big government agenda. When they tried obtaining non-profit status, Obama’s weaponized IRS harassed them, delayed the process, and denied the requests, strangling many of the groups in the cradle.

While you didn’t see much coverage about it in the mainstream press, the IRS in 2017 reached a seven-figure settlement with the groups it targeted. We’d prefer that the groups were never targeted in the first place, but at least the agency is finally paying for its shameful actions.

5. DOT Reforms Save Taxpayer Money

Wisconsin’s protracted transportation debate focused on the supposed need for more money, but reforms implemented in 2017 under Department of Transportation Secretary Dave Ross have already saved significant taxpayer money – and it’s just his first year at the agency’s helm.

Decreased construction costs and effective bidding are helping DOT get its highway projects ahead of schedule, while at the same time providing budget relief.

Last fiscal year, the DOT saved $46.7 million on the major transportation projects from let savings, which means vendor bids came in lower than expected. That was due, in part, to lower construction costs. The Wisconsin Construction Cost Index dropped 5.3 percent last year.

In its frenzy to write the next episode in the “DOT funding is running dry” story arc, the media overlooked the agency’s success in doing more with the money it already has.

4. UW Gives Lifetime Achievement Award to Sycophant for Socialist Dictators

While it might be of interest to Wisconsinites that UW-Madison’s Havens Center chose to bestow a lifetime achievement award upon an apologist for brutal socialist dictators, the media at large was apparently uninterested.

Tariq Ali has spent his career as a writer and author cheerleading for the likes of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. Now that the socialist utopia he envisioned for Venezuela has descended into a hellhole of oppression and humanitarian crises, Ali has conveniently gone silent.

Just like UW-Madison and the media who ignored the story.

3. FSET Success Continues

After two and a half years, Wisconsin’s FoodShare Employment and Training Program (FSET) continues to prove its effectiveness in shepherding adults off public benefits and into productive careers – an amazing success story that the media largely have overlooked.

In September, FSET participants worked an average of 34.7 hours a week with an average wage of $12.80. FSET workers did the best in Waupaca, Waushara, Green Lake, Winnebago, Fond du Lac, and Calumet Counties. There the average wage was $15.90 an hour – more than double the state’s minimum wage of $7.25. They were also averaging 38.4 hours a week.

Welfare reform in Wisconsin, a top priority of Gov. Scott Walker, is proving once again that gainful employment, self-reliance, and the dignity that comes with having a job – no dependence on government assistance – is the only pathway out of poverty. But that success appears to be of little interest to the general press.

2. Walker, Republicans Erase Taxes from the Books

Getting rid of an entire tax is as rare as a total solar eclipse. This year, both happened. In fact, the governor and Republican lawmakers deleted two taxes from the books. When Walker signed the 2017-19 state budget, he eliminated the statewide property tax (also known as the Forestry Mill Tax) and the state’s alternative minimum tax.

Gov. Walker spent the year touting the elimination of the Forestry Mill Tax, but neither story received the attention in the media that the momentous tax rollbacks deserved. While the tax savings are just pieces of the larger puzzle of easing the tax burden in Wisconsin, the elimination of two taxes is worthy of many more headlines than what were inked in 2017.

And, without further adieu, the most under-reported story of 2017 – one that emerged in the final weeks of the year…

1. The True Abuses of the Sinister John Doe

Just as the calendar was closing on 2017, the state Department of Justice dropped a bombshell in the ongoing saga of Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe. The DOJ report on its investigation into the leak of John Doe documents to the Guardian newspaper was full of shocking new revelations about the extent of the probe – so much more sinister than even conservatives had feared. Among other findings, DOJ investigators discovered that government prosecutors and bureaucrats had opened a “John Doe III” – a wider political dragnet – involving scores of conservatives. The extent of the abuse of Wisconsinites’ basic rights is nothing short of shocking.

But don’t look to the mainstream media for that headline. Some initial media reports that the Department of Justice found no crimes in the leaks investigation. Another story chose to focus on the fact that the DOJ didn’t talk to the Guardian reporter who published the leaked documents. Reporters ought to understand that journalists are generally shielded from criminal liabilities regarding court-sealed documents.

While many in the media seemed intent to sweep under the rug the fact that partisan John Doe prosecutors sloppily handled hundreds of thousands of private communications and kept them in a file labeled “Opposition Research,” MacIver has been hard at work bringing you the  full story in one of the darkest chapters of Wisconsin’s history.