Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. December 28, 2021.
Editorial: Responding to the wave
There’s a lot still being learned about the omicron variant of COVID, but it’s clear it is playing a significant role in the current rise in cases.
Revised estimates from the Centers for Disease Control suggest it accounted for more than 58% of U.S. infections last week. That’s a significant rise from about one in five cases a week earlier.
While omicron appears to be less dangerous than previous versions, that is probably not enough to spare hospitals from a new barrage of patients. A small percentage of a very large number still results in a lot of people needing care, and a very large number is what most experts suggest will be the case with omicron.
Witness the effects it is already having on travel. COVID, now driven by omicron, played havoc with U.S. flights during the Christmas travel week. Thousands of flights were cancelled as pilots and airline staff fell sick. And we’re most likely not past the peak yet.
It’s not just travelers. The National Hockey League postponed the season by a week due to multiple outbreaks among teams. And it’s entirely possible omicron could help determine the Super Bowl winner, much to fans’ chagrin.
The best evidence for what the future weeks may hold comes from South Africa, which discovered the omicron variant. Their studies suggest omicron is crowding out prior variants by effectively out-competing them, then preventing reinfections by the earlier variants.
That, in an odd way, may wind up being good news. While New York and Florida are seeing significant rises in COVID cases directly tied to omicron’s spread, a less-lethal variant elbowing its way to becoming the primary cause of COVID illness should mean fewer deaths. But complacency isn’t acceptable.
We would remind people that omicron’s lower risk of severe illness isn’t the same as a variant that won’t make you absolutely miserable for several days. Everyone still has the ability to affect the course of the wave that seems to be coming. We can still take precautions, wearing masks, washing our hands frequently, and getting vaccinated if you haven’t yet done so.
On Monday, the CDC announced a change to its recommendations for those who test positive for COVID. Those who are exposed by close contacts or contract the virus should isolate for five days, half the time previously recommended. That, like previous recommendations, is based on continuing reviews of the evidence.
Researchers believe people are most infectious in the two days before symptoms emerge and the three days following the arrival of symptoms. Those who do indeed develop symptoms should stay home until those symptoms abate.
The CDC’s guidelines aren’t a requirement, but they are a strong recommendation. And they’re worth heeding.
We know you’re tired of reading about the pandemic. We’re sick of it, too. But it remains a major news story, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
Almost 10,000 Wisconsin residents have died from this virus. More than 800,000 Americans have died from it. The worldwide toll is more than five million. The challenge for all of us is to remember that every one of these numbers represents real people. Every death meant a loss of potential and that others mourned.
The toll goes beyond deaths. This virus has deepened divisions and blinded people to their neighbors’ needs. It has allowed us to given into our worst instincts too often. It is frequently impossible to like what we see in the mirror as a society.
And yet there are those who have responded in ways that remind us of who we should be. Those who have given beyond what anyone could reasonably expect. There are people who have made themselves examples of how to care for others and be examples of how we all can do better.
No one knows when the pandemic will, finally, come to an end. We just know it’s not now. But, until it does, we can continue to control how we respond. Let us do so in ways that will strengthen our ties to others and heal the wounds caused over course of the pandemic.
We may not be able to stop the coming wave. But we can respond better, with more concern for our fellow people.
Kenosha News. December 26, 2021.
Editorial: Tax reform plan deserves debate
Wisconsin conservatives last week posed a plan to eliminate Wisconsin’s income tax — which is the ninth highest in the country – and instead boost the state’s sales tax from 5% to 8%.
Prof. Noah Williams, head of the UW-Madison Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE), said the change would $1,700 per household in tax relief — a total of $3.5 billion.
Williams said the change would also boost Wisconsin GDP by $28 billion over the first eight years and make the state more competitive and boost employment by 175,000 jobs.
That’s awfully enticing. For Wisconsin homeowners, many of whom are writing out big checks this month to pay their property taxes, the idea of a bump of $1,700 in household income is like a Christmas sugarplum.
“An average household in Wisconsin pays nearly $2,800 in income taxes,” Williams said. “While the increases sales tax would add nearly $1,100 in taxes. (Eliminating the income tax) means a tax cut of roughly $1,700 per household.”
Wisconsin would join nine other states that currently don’t have state income taxes.
Former Gov. Scott Walker endorsed the plan and said, “We would clearly have a competitive advantage. We already see the exodus coming from Illinois to Wisconsin, and Indiana and other states. This would just accelerate that.”
The proposed tax reform also garnered support from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, the Institute for Reforming Government, and Americans for Tax Reform.
One place it didn’t gain support was from the office of Gov. Tony Evers who sniffed, “Wasn’t he governor for eight years and had a Republican Legislature that whole time? He could have done that himself.”
According to news reports Walker did pose the idea of eliminating the state’s personal and corporate income taxes back in 2013, but it didn’t gain any momentum at the Capitol at the time.
And Wisconsin’s Main Street Alliance and Wisconsin Budget Project panned the proposal saying it would “shift the responsibility for paying taxes away from the rich and powerful and onto the back so people with low and moderate incomes.”
So let’s have that debate. Have we gone so far down the rabbit hole of hyper-partisan political division that we can’t have an honest and open discussion of the pluses and minuses of a tax reform proposal?
The numbers tell us this. Wisconsin will collect $6.3 billion in sales and use taxes this year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. That provides 32.6 percent of the state’s general purpose revenue. By comparison, the individual income tax will generate $9.3 billion, which accounts for 47.4 percent of GPR.
Wisconsin’s income tax rate is the ninth highest in the country, while the sales tax is one of the lowest. So perhaps some tax shifting is in order.
Yes, we have some questions. For starters, this reform doesn’t touch on local property taxes — that’s right, the ones many of us are paying this month — and they total about $11.2 billion each year. Wisconsin ranks sixth highest in the country for property taxes with homeowners shelling out an average of $4,027 per year. That’s the big dog in the room.
We’ve also heard radio news reports that the bump in the sales tax from 5% to 8% won’t cover the loss of $9.3 billion from the elimination of the state income tax — that it will fall $2- to $3 billion short. That’s a problem.
Still, if this reform can boost take home wages for workers, increase Wisconsin’s GDP, create more jobs and make the state more attractive to new businesses, it’s a debate worth having. The guiding light here should not be whether it benefits Democrats or Republicans, but if it helps the residents of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin State Journal. December 23, 2021.
Editorial: Dear Santa: Here’s who deserves to be on your naughty or nice lists in Wisconsin
Not to step on Santa’s boots, but we have a few suggestions for his naughty or nice lists before Christmas morning arrives.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has definitely been a good boy this year. The nation’s top infectious disease expert politely yet firmly urged sensible health precautions to deter COVID-19.
Fauci’s critics cynically search for devious motives. But the good doctor just wants Americans protected. This consummate professional deserves something special in his stocking for continuing to explain the changing risks and latest public health data. How about a vacation to scenic Wisconsin once the pandemic is finally under control?
Similarly, all health care providers — especially those on the front lines — deserve nice gifts. Can Santa grant them a few days off? If not, maybe his magic can increase vaccination rates to reduce the number of patients in hospitals.
Santa will still need plenty of coal for members of Congress and the Wisconsin Legislature. Their insults and partisan games were incessant during 2021, slowing progress.
Yet Santa should grant some Christmas cheer to those leaders who agreed to invest in roads, bridges and rural broadband. The bipartisan infrastructure bill was badly needed, though more of it should have been paid for.
Santa should find something special for retiring Congressman Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, who has consistently ranked as Wisconsin’s most bipartisan political leader in Washington. Old Saint Nick should reward Kind’s pragmatism and collegiality with a six-pack of Snake Hollow IPA from Potosi Brewery, given Kind’s advocacy for Wisconsin’s beer industry.
And how about an ice cold Boat House Pilsner from Titletown Brewery for U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, who has partnered with Kind on smart legislation. Gallagher is Wisconsin’s second best congressman at cooperation. And unlike so many of his Republican colleagues, Gallagher hasn’t blindly followed the worst instincts of former President Donald Trump.
At the statehouse in Madison, two lawmakers who deserve Santa’s favor are Reps. Sheila Stubbs, D-Madison, and Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, for negotiating and passing a package of bills to improve policing in Wisconsin. Perhaps blossoming poinsettias would brighten their homes?
Two easy picks for the naughty list are U.S. Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua. They shamefully tried to block the final tally of electoral votes that officially gave Joe Biden the presidency in January. These two antagonists of democracy even said they would have voted to disenfranchise Wisconsin voters if given the chance. Maybe instead of lumps of coal, some reindeer chips would get their attention.
Another very bad boy is U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, who kowtows to Trump while touting endless conspiracy theories. Johnson deserves a Magic 8 Ball in his stocking to help him decide if he’ll seek a third term next year. Santa’s elves should rig the 8 Ball so Johnson always gets the same answer: “My reply is no.”
Anyone who participated in the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 deserves a copy of “Robert’s Rules of Order” to read in jail. That way, they can learn how decisions are made in a democracy.
In the sports world, nobody has been nicer to Wisconsin than Giannis Antetokounmpo. He gave Milwaukee its first NBA title in 50 years and served as an incredible ambassador for Cream City. The two-time league MVP genuinely loves Milwaukee, and his enthusiasm is infectious. The “Greek Freak” deserves a shiny new pair of size 16 sneakers.
Speaking of champions, the Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team just won its first NCAA title, inspiring countless young people to do their best on and off the court. Santa has to be careful not to violate NCAA rules banning gifts for college athletes. So how about some major renovations to the Field House, where the team plays its home games?
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has spread joy across Wisconsin by leading the green and gold into the playoffs, with visions of another Super Bowl dancing in our cheeseheads. If only No. 12 hadn’t lied to fans about getting a vaccine, only to get sick and cost his team a win when he missed a game. We’ll leave Rodgers’ official status as naughty or nice up to Santa. Either way, an appropriate stocking stuffer might be a three-pack of N95 masks, adorned with the Packers logo. That way, he’ll be reminded to stay safe and, hopefully, to finally get a shot.
Our final hope for Kris Kringle as he prepares his sleigh for Christmas Eve is to shine his light of generosity and love on the less fortunate. That includes the families of those we lost during the pandemic. It includes the more than 60 victims of the tragedy at the Waukesha Christmas parade, who were struck, injured and in six cases killed by a senselessly violent driver. It includes those made homeless by the recent rash of tornadoes, and the immigrants stuck at a military camp in Fort McCoy after escaping Afghanistan.
Please be kind to all the good souls, Santa Claus, especially the children. Merry Christmas, happy holidays and best wishes to all for the new year.