By: Brian Sikma
Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Or those who have cushy salaries as executives shouldn’t throw stones at those who also have nice salaries and are executives.
The United Steelworkers Union – USW – is upset that the CEO of Caterpillar, Inc. got a pay raise last year. USW represents many of the union workers who work for Caterpillar. In Wisconsin, the union was particular irked some weeks ago when it discovered that Caterpillar was training new workers who could be used to keep production at a South Milwaukee plant going in the event of a work stoppage. Negotiations between the local union and Caterpillar are ongoing.
Although Steelworkers union bosses may find it good for their careers to stir up a little class warfare anger directed at the head of Caterpillar, they may want to be careful about railing against those who make more than the average working class employee. According to the Milwaukee Business Journal, Michael Bolton, a USW official, called the increase in the Caterpillar executive’s salary, “shameful and unwarranted.”
Bolton may not want to cast stones so quickly. According to federal labor filings, Leo Gerard, the president of the USW, made $195,565 in total salary for 2011. That’s well above the average income of a middle class Wisconsin worker.
The Wisconsin AFL-CIO did not issue a formal statement backing the class warfare-mongering of the USW, but they did use its Twitter account to tweet about the “outrage” of the pay raise. Ironically, Phil Neuenfeldt, the president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, makes about $108,000 a year. Which is, like Gerard’s USW salary, still above what the middle class in Wisconsin can expect.
By: Ethan Hollenberger
Late last week a surplus of $650 million in various University of Wisconsin accounts was announced in a Legislative Fiscal Bureau report. In the last decade, UW’s tuition has more than doubled in part under the banner of the University needing more money. The presence of the slush fund poses an awkward question for that argument.
The liberal group One Wisconsin Now has launched an effort to attack conservatives on the issue of student loans. Featured often in their work is the University of Wisconsin, which is held up as a sort of prototypical case study in rising tuition costs. One Wisconsin Now has been quick to blame both Gov. Scott Walker and “right-wing finger pointing” for missing the crisis of student loan debt. Last year the governor allowed tuition to UW to increase by 5.5%.
In October of 2011, OWN flew a plane around Camp Randall Stadium during a Wisconsin Badger Football game with a banner reading “Enjoy Higher Tuition *Heart* Scott Walker.” A former Democratic caucus aide, OWN’s executive director Scot Ross claimed that Walker’s “slashing” of $330 million dollars from higher education was the cause for the tuition increase.
Scot Ross and his group have yet to mention the last tuition freeze was under Republican Governor Tommy Thompson in 2000. When Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle took office in 2003, tuition at UW-Madison was $4,554. When he left office eight years later, UW-Madison’s tuition was $7,933; an increase of $4,079. The previous 16 years of Republican administrations before Doyle increased tuition by less than half of what Doyle allowed to take place.
If Ross is going to credibly criticize the Republican Walker for tuition increases, he is going to have to explain his own party’s overwhelming influence on the “student debt crisis.”
It remains to be seen what will happen to the $650 million the UW Board of Regents is accused of hiding (10 of 18 are were appointed by Gov. Jim Doyle). The UW says they have allocated over $441 million of the surplus to research, grant, or capital expenditures; however, UW officials haven’t announced the details of their plan for that money.
Legislators are discussing several options from lowering or freezing tuition to reducing a proposed expansion in taxpayer funding for the University.
The Wisconsin public school principal who used pejorative language on Twitter to leap to conclusions and blame the right for the Boston Marathon tragedy uses YouTube to showcase students and highlight racy videos he likes. Paul Fischer, principal for the Lincoln Elementary School in Merrillan, deleted his Twitter account on Tuesday after Media Trackers and conservative talk show host Dana Loesch highlighted his comments.
Fischer has used his YouTube account to publicly post short videos of elementary students involved in school events. In addition to the four videos he has posted so far, Fischer has also used the default playlist feature on YouTube to create a list of his favorite YouTube videos. Ranking number one on that list is the music video “I Just Had Sex” by The Lonely Island. The song features explicit lyrics about anatomy and sex.
While the song is popular in some quarters, the fact that Fischer favorited it on the same account he uses to post videos of school kids might raise some parents’ eyebrows. A person visiting one of Fischer’s school-related videos could quickly find the racy video thanks to the way YouTube pages work.
Fischer is slated to become the superintendent of his school district in July. At that time he will start to make $104,000 per year. He would not respond to requests for comment today beyond saying he would fulfill the open records requests submitted by Media Trackers.
By: Brian Sikma
A public school official in Wisconsin took to Twitter yesterday to politicize the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing. Paul Fischer of the Alma Center School District tweeted on Monday afternoon:
“Worth noting: Today is Patriots day. An important day to militia movements in our country. The same day Tim Mcveigh chose to bomb Okla City.”
Fischer is the principal of the Lincoln Elementary School in Merrillan. Conservative blogger and Missouri-based talk radio host Dana Loesch pointed out Fischer’s tweet in a blog post she wrote on Tuesday. Loesch made the point that some in the media, and some like Fischer who are responsible for educating young minds, were politicizing the Boston tragedy.
The phrase “militia movement” was once a term reserved to describe anarchist type groups. But as the national debate over gun control has unfolded, pro-gun control advocates and pundits have begun using the phrase as a pejorative to describe those who say their concerns about increased gun regulation stem from their respect for the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Fischer sent his tweet at 3:41 pm CDT, while news of the tragedy swept the nation. Fischer deleted both his twitter account (@ACHMPrinc) and the tweet moments after Media Trackers released this story on Tuesday.
Records show only one Paul Fischer living in Alma Center, Wisconsin, and according to iVerifyTheRecall.com, Fischer signed a recall petition against Governor Scott Walker.
Despite being a public school official, Fischer’s tweet was misleading about Patriot’s Day. Timothy McVeigh did not bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office Building on Patriot’s Day, 1995. Patriot’s Day has been established as the third Monday of April and the Oklahoma City bombing took place on April 19, two days after that year’s observance of Patriot’s Day and the running of the Boston Marathon.
Wisconsin did not start recognizing Patriot’s Day until 2001. The confusion may come from the fact that April 19th, 1775 was the start of the American War for Independence, but that is not the date established in law as Patriot’s Day.
Fischer is slated to make $104,000 a year starting July 1st as the new superintendent for the School District of Alma Center-Humbird-Merrillan.
Ethan Hollenberger contributed to this report.
The Wisconsin Historical Society, a state agency, has been accused of misleading lawmakers and the public in the debate over just who should control a circus museum slated to get taxpayer money in the state budget. Steve Freese, an ex-GOP lawmaker, had harsh words to describe the tactics used by the Historical Society when he testified before a Joint Finance Committee meeting last week.
In creating the proposed budget, Governor Scott Walker was given “misinformation” by the Historical Society, Freese said according to his prepared remarks. Freese said he felt compelled to spend his testimony correcting the “significant inaccuracies the Society has laid out” in its lobbying efforts.
A consistent theme hit upon by Freese was that the Historical Society engaged in a “complete fabrication” or otherwise had “a complete disregard of the facts” when they depicted the financial condition of the private foundation that currently runs the museum. But while Freese corrected the record, documents from his own board of directors still show the museum to be ailing, even if allegedly fabricated financial details touted by the Historical Society are incorrect.
The Wisconsin Historical Society would benefit from a complete state takeover of the Circus World Museum. The Society’s budget would expand by $3.7 million and ten new state employees would be added to their staff.
It appears that the Society has organized a multi-pronged effort to push lawmakers to expand their bureaucracy and budget. In addition to internal documents outlining a lobbying strategy, Mueller Communications, Inc. a public relations firm based in Milwaukee, says that they are working with the Wisconsin Historical Society to help promote the new spending.
“I work on behalf of the Wisconsin Historical Society,” said Lori Richards, the PR firm’s Vice President, in an e-mail to Media Trackers. Richards was trying to claim that taxpayers and the state would not be responsible for a full $3.7 million in funding for the Circus Museum, even though that figure was the total amount listed in the budget for the state’s takeover of the museum. Steve Freese in his testimony at the legislative hearing confirmed that the $3.7 million figure is indeed accurate.
Asked days ago about the extent and nature of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s relationship with the private PR firm, an official with the state never responded. Media Trackers has submitted an open records request seeking more information about the connection.
Despite his opposition to a takeover by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Freese still begged the state for taxpayer money for his privately run museum.
Last week, an assignment from the Union Grove School District made some news. According to a report from the Education Action Group, eighth graders were given a cross-word puzzle civics assignment defining terms like conservatism, liberalism, moderate, and civil rights.
The assignment defined conservatism as, “the political belief of preserving traditional moral values by restricting personal freedoms and encouraging prosperity through economic freedom.”
While the assignment takes a clear shot at conservative social values, it shows that some public schools are actively framing issues regarding marriage and abortion in a way that reflects and benefits the liberal political narrative.
The assignment defines liberal as, “the political belief of equality and personal freedom for everyone, often changing the current system to increase government protection of civil liberties.”
On the back of the assignment is a list of 18 statements. Students are asked, “so where do you stand?” as they circle the statements they agree with. At the end, students are given “liberal points” for circling even numbered statements and “conservative points” for odd numbered statements.
The mother who released the assignments, Tamara Varebrook, doesn’t believe that the teacher is to blame for the “radical indoctrination.” Rather, she says, the curriculum is at fault. The Union Grove School District has since pulled the curriculum.
By: Brian Sikma
Only eight state representatives voted against a bill backed by some Republican legislative leaders that interferes with private business contracts and, critics say, could raise the cost of dental services in Wisconsin. At the request of the Wisconsin Dental Association, a powerful special interest lobby that lavished thousands of dollars on state lawmakers’ campaigns in the past year, Republicans joined with Democrats to forcibly rewrite contracts between dental insurance companies and some dentists.
The Assembly-passed bill now moves to the Senate, where its fate could potentially rest in the hands of Senator Frank Lasee (R), chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee. One week before he introduced the legislation as a sponsor, Lasee, according to campaign finance records, accepted $1,350 in political contributions through the Wisconsin Dental Association’s political arm.
To their credit, not all of the representatives who took money from the WDA’s political arm voted in favor the bill, AB 109. The dental lobby’s political conduit is one of the larger political conduits in the state.
The eight representatives voting against the bill were all Republicans and they are Rep. Tyler August, Rep. Dave Craig, Rep. Rob Hutton, Rep. Chris Kapenga, Rep. Dale Kooyenga, Rep. Bill Kramer (who is the Speaker Pro Tempore), newly sworn in Rep. Adam Neylon, and Rep. Duey Stroebel.
Advocates of the legislation, pointing to other states that have recently enacted similar laws, say that Wisconsin should quickly get on board with the idea. This despite the fact that no one seems to be quite sure how the legislation will hold up under the coming tidal wave of ObamaCare regulations. In nearby Indiana, legislation nearly identical to AB 109 died earlier this year. A similar attempt in Indiana last year also failed.
Indiana’s business climate is ranked 11th best in the nation, whereas Wisconsin’s business climate ranks 43rd worst in the nation, according to a study by the Tax Foundation.
“Wisconsin businesses should be free to make contractual decision without government stepping in to mandate the terms of the agreement,” declared a memo to lawmakers by one group opposed to AB 109.
Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, on Monday hung the hopes of a Democrat takeover of the state Senate on Senate District 17. Tate’s glee stems from the fact that over the weekend state Rep. Howard Marklein (R) announced he is running for the state Senate in District 17 next year. That means that incumbent Sen. Dale Schultz (R) must chose to either retire or face a very possible primary defeat.
But does the math validate Tate’s exuberance?
The 17th District was redrawn in 2010 and currently includes all or portions of Green, Lafayette, Grant, Iowa, Sauk, Richland, Juneau, Monroe and Vernon Counties. Looking at how Republican candidates performed in those areas in previous election cycles can offer a glimpse into how safe the seat is for the GOP. It would also either verify or disprove the claim of Schultz defenders who say the senator needs to vote against conservative legislation from time to time to hold onto his job.
All three state representatives whose districts comprise Senate District 17, Ed Brooks, Travis Tranel, and Howard Marklein, are Republicans.
Using election data from the GAB, it is possible to look at the counties and portions of counties that are currently in District 17 and estimate how a Republican candidate could have fared in previous elections. In 2010, Scott Walker (R) secured roughly 53% of the vote as opposed to Tom Barrett’s (D) 47%. In the 2012 June recall election, Walker again beat Barrett 53% to 47%. Not a blowout, but a comfortable margin.
In November presidential elections, the district is more competitive for a Democrat. Barack Obama carried the district 57% to 43% in 2012. Eight years earlier in a much tighter match-up, John Kerry (D) beat George W. Bush (R) by a single percentage point in the areas that now make up district.
Unfortunately for Democrats like Tate, presidential election year data, while interesting, isn’t terribly vital to District 17 because it elects its state senator in the off-year – gubernatorial year – election. Recent data shows that Republicans have been winning non-presidential elections in that district. Additionally, the fact that all three Assembly Districts in the Senate District have elected Republicans proves that a consistent base of GOP voters does exist.
If Democrats think a Schultz primary or Schultz defeat presents them with a strong shot at recapturing the Senate, they may not want to start partying yet.
By: Brian Sikma
Tax Day is April 15, but while that is the deadline for taxpayers to pay their taxes, there is another significant tax-related day that has lately fallen in April: Tax Freedom Day. That day marks the amount of time it takes, starting January 1, for the nation to make enough money to pay for all of the taxes it will pay to government that year. Calculated by the Tax Foundation, the national Tax Freedom Day for 2013 is April 18, or five days later than it was last year.
As the Tax Foundation explains it:
”Tax Freedom Day provides Americans with an easy way to gauge the overall tax take-a task that can otherwise be daunting due to the multiplicity of taxes at various levels of government and “hidden” taxes and fees that are often buried in the cost of living.”
While April 18 is the national Tax Freedom Day, individual states have their own Tax Freedom Days due to their own tax structures. For Wisconsin this year, Tax Freedom Day comes on April 20, later than the national average because of Wisconsin’s current tax and spending climate. Last year Wisconsin’s Tax Freedom Day was April 21.
The relative lateness of Wisconsin’s Tax Freedom Day means it takes the state longer that most states to earn enough money to pay for the burden of state, local and federal government. In 2012, 40 states had Tax Freedom Days earlier than Wisconsin. Similarly, this year Wisconsin is tied for the 9th latest Tax Freedom Day, meaning again that 40 states get done paying their tax burden sooner than Wisconsin.
By: Brian Sikma
It was a not so subtle jab at executive salaries.
A detailed report last month by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel probed the salary of Summerfest CEO Don Smiley. Smiley is charged with managing the annual music festival that takes place every summer for 11 days in Milwaukee. Although the report compared Smiley’s salary to that of various government officials in Milwaukee, and even the salary of the President of the United States, the report, which certainly portrayed some executive salaries as excess, never mentioned the salary of the newspaper’s publisher, Betsy Brenner.
Brenner, according to a story last week in the Milwaukee Business Journal, made $779,439 in 2011. Compare that to the 2011 salary for Smiley, which was $772,575, and merited an entire story on lavish executive salaries.
Although Summerfest does have some financial support from the local government, Smiley’s salary is based on his performance as an executive and is handled by the non-profit Milwaukee World Festival board. Annual attendance numbers at Summerfest have dropped slightly, but backers say that the overall quality of the event has increased and total revenue is $30 million annually.
By comparison, circulation of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has declined recently. Digital subscriptions have helped keep the paper moving along, but print weekday and Sunday editions are lagging. Last spring, and again last fall, the Milwaukee Business Journal wrote about the Journal Sentinel‘s circulation woes. In the spring of 2011 weekday circulation of the Journal Sentinel was 194,416, by October of 2012 that number had dropped to 166,759. Sunday circulation over that time declined from 333,999 to 286,071.