Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. April 27, 2022.
Editorial: Honoring Wisconsin’s youth
Last week our editor had the privilege of being a judge for the Wisconsin Civics Games, which returned after a COVID hiatus. The games involved high school teams from around Wisconsin in a quiz bowl-style event.
The competition didn’t crown a champion, but set the stage for the Civics Games finals. Each round got tougher, and it was impressive to watch the teams in the last matches of the day square off. There were several extraordinarily close matchups. You could see the preparation and investment of time these students put in.
How hard did things get? The first question of Round 1 was “Name the two major political parties in the United States.” Most teams could answer before the judge was finished reading the question. By the last round students were being asked this: “Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Which state was the last to ratify before it went into law?”
The answer was Tennessee.
The following are 10 questions from the four rounds of last week’s Civics Games. The answers will be at the bottom of the editorial.
1. Under Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law, how much notice must be given for a meeting of a government body?
2. Name two requirements for serving on a jury.
3. The United States Postal Service is an independent agency of which branch of government?
4. What is the minimum number of meetings per year required for a county board in Wisconsin?
5. Who was the first governor of Wisconsin Territory?
6. How many electors are in the Electoral College?
7. In order to prompt a recall election in Wisconsin, how many signatures are required?
8. How many cities are in Wisconsin?
9. Victoria Woodhull, in 1872, was the first woman to do what in the United States?
10. Which department of the federal government issues United States passports?
The knowledge and enthusiasm displayed by the students at the Civics Games clashes with the headlines since Friday.
This has been a rough week for everyone in the area. The death of a child is always a heavy blow. The fact another child is accused in the case doesn’t help. And there’s a clear limit to how much we can constructively say on the subject in this moment.
It’s easy to forget when news like this is on everyone’s mind how impressive the youth of Wisconsin really are. After all, students were expected to be able to answer the above questions. That’s part of what hurts right now. There’s so much potential that will be forever unfulfilled.
The investigators in the Lily Peters case deserve the public’s thanks for their efforts. It’s important that we not forget that, while we can all find distractions, they had to focus on such a wrenching event at length. They were clearly aided by the tips people called in. Thank you to everyone who helped.
May Lily’s memory be a blessing for those she loved, and those who love her.
Answers: 1. 24 hours 2. At least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, and able to understand English 3. The executive branch 4. Two 5. Henry Dodge 6. 538 7. 15% of the residents who voted in the previous gubernatorial election 8. 190 9. Run for president of the United States 10. The U.S. Department of State
Racine Journal Times. April 25, 2022.
Editorial: Keep boosting state’s rainy day fund
Politicians on both sides of the political aisle get positively giddy when there is an unexpected surge in tax collections that buoy Wisconsin coffers — like the one that is currently projected to give the state a $3.8 billion general fund balance at the end of fiscal 2023.
So many dollars — and so many ways to spend it.
Gov. Tony Evers in January proposed additional spending for schools and sending $150 checks to every state resident — which was derided as an election-year gimmick by Republicans. GOP legislators, meanwhile, are talking longingly about tax cuts in the next biennial budget and other spending proposals.
And no, state officials said in January, socking some of that surplus away in the state’s “rainy day fund,” to be used in the event of an economic downturn was not on the priority list.
After all, Wisconsin put $967 million into the fund at close of 2021, bringing the total to about $1.73 billion — the largest amount in state history. Under state law two decades ago, lawmakers requited that half of excess tax revenues be deposited into the rainy day fund until it reached 5% of state funding levels. Today, the rainy day fund balance equates to 8.4% of state spending.
So we’re good, right? Well, maybe. For now.
But there are still some alarm bells ringing. This month a report by the Wisconsin Counties Associations nonpartisan research arm, Forward Analytics, said Wisconsin needs to almost double the rainy day fund — that it should be 15% to 16% to properly withstand a future recession.
Dale Knapp, the author of the report, suggested additional contributions to the emergency fund should be the first claim on what’s in the general fund balance.
“Even if we do that, there’s enough there to fund some other priorities that the governor or legislators might have and and it sets us up in a position where we’re actually prepared for the next downturn and we don’t have to make significant cuts to spending or raise taxes significantly like we did in the last recession,” Knapp said.
Knapp said Wisconsin’s 5% level is too low and that the Government Finance Officers Association recommends holding at least 16% of spending in reserve.
Knapp is not the only one signaling this may be a time for caution.
The Federal Reserve is fighting a tricky battle to dampen down soaring inflation by raising interest rates while still not hurting the economy or the labor market — or triggering a recession. Last month, the Fed raised its benchmark interest rate by 0.25% — the first raise since 2018 — and as many as seven rate increases are projected this year, including bumps of 0.5% in May and June, according to some economists.
Economists argue that the Fed’s response was tardy and even Fed chair Jerome H. Powell conceded last month the Fed “obviously” should have begun tightening rates earlier before they got so high.
It’s a complicated situation compounded by the war in the Ukraine, the disruption of Russian oil shipments, the struggles in China with COVID that continue to disrupt supply chains around the world and a tight labor market here in the U.S.
That calls for a little bit of caution by the governor and state lawmakers before they start writing checks for new programs, tax cuts or anything else to sop up the state’s surplus.
The Reuters news service polled economists last week and they projected the probability of toppling into a recession is 25% this year and 40% next year.
They’re saying it’s fairly likely it’s going to rain. Wisconsin should have a healthier rainy day fund to use as an umbrella, just in case.
Wisconsin State Journal. April 22, 2022.
Editorial: Courts fail the public in push for fair maps
A double whammy of unusual court decisions has made Wisconsin’s gerrymandered voting districts even worse than before.
That means the Republicans who control the Legislature will be even less accountable to voters over the next decade.
It’s sad and shameful.
Here’s what just happened, and why it’s more important than ever for Wisconsin citizens to advocate for nonpartisan redistricting, similar to Iowa’s proven model:
The first whammy came on March 23, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected new legislative districts drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The Wisconsin Supreme Court had narrowly approved those maps because, according to the state court’s novel criteria, the governor’s maps were closer to existing maps than competing Republican-drawn maps.
Without extensive briefing or oral arguments, the nation’s highest court ruled that the Wisconsin Supreme Court had failed to properly determine if Evers’ maps comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. Specifically, the court questioned Evers’ attempt to increase the number of majority-Black Assembly districts in Milwaukee from six to seven.
The effects of Evers’ changes were unclear. They might have fostered more Black representation. Or, because Evers’ maps reduced the size of Black majorities in the six existing districts, Black representation might have been less likely. His maps also collapsed some GOP lawmakers into the same districts in Milwaukee’s suburbs, hurting their chances.
This gets to the heart of why none of the politicians — not the Republicans nor the Democrats — should be drawing the lines of voting districts. They will always try to skew the maps to their favor. They just can’t help themselves.
Instead, like Iowa, Wisconsin should assign the once-every-decade task of adjusting the lines to reflect population changes to a neutral state agency. In Iowa, the map-drawing agency is nonpartisan and forbidden from considering the fate of incumbents or voting patterns. Instead, it must draw the lines as contiguous and compact as possible while respecting community boundaries.
Evers tried to encourage a similar process by creating a citizen panel to draw the lines in Wisconsin last year. But the GOP-run Legislature has repeatedly rejected any attempt to take the politics out of the process. Instead, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, have doubled down on gerrymandering and continue to waste millions of tax dollars on lawyers to defend their rigged districts. They fear losing their power and Republican majorities if the maps are drawn fairly.
Republicans were poised to win the latest round of redistricting either way. That’s because, due to a state Supreme Court edict, even Evers’ maps had to be similar to existing maps, which the GOP had gerrymandered in secret a decade ago.
What was disappointing was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to inject itself into this issue so late in the game and with so little justification. The conservatives who control the U.S. Supreme Court often deride liberal judges for “judicial activism,” accusing them of going beyond interpreting laws to actually making law.
But in this case, those same conservative justices appear to be practicing what they preach against. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, such a summary ruling is typically issued only when settled law has been violated, which was not the case here.
So much for judicial restraint. About the only bright spot was that the high court left in place somewhat more competitive congressional voting districts that Evers drew.
The second whammy for Wisconsin voters came last Friday, when the state Supreme Court’s conservative majority abruptly reversed course and adopted the Republican-drawn maps, giving GOP legislative candidates even more political advantages than they already enjoyed. The conservative justices claimed the U.S. Supreme Court left them little choice. They said they had to quickly choose different maps than Evers’ so that candidates could start circulating nomination papers to run this fall.
But the U.S. Supreme Court had specifically suggested otherwise — that the state’s top court did have “sufficient time to adopt maps” before the Aug. 9 primary, even if it sought more information.
The state Supreme Court’s latest decision looks chaotic and suspect, rather than deliberate and independent.
In Iowa, the courts aren’t needed to settle partisan squabbles over redistricting. Both political parties ultimately accept the maps drawn by the nonpartisan state agency. That’s happened without fail for five decades in Iowa.
Voters in Wisconsin must continue to demand a fair system like that. Voters here deserve neutral maps — even if our courts, sadly, won’t require them.