Wisconsin State Journal. June 6, 2021.

Editorial: Republicans shouldn’t risk $1.5B for Wisconsin schools

Wisconsin ranks near the bottom of states — 45th out of 50 — in harnessing money from Uncle Sam, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

So why is the Republican-run Legislature — again — risking if not snubbing federal dollars from Washington that taxpayers here deserve, given all the money Wisconsin citizens pay the IRS?

It doesn’t make fiscal or common sense.

The Legislature’s budget committee is playing a potentially costly political game by failing to abide by federal rules for receiving an estimated $1.5 billion — with a “b” — for Wisconsin schools.

We understand that many Republican leaders in Wisconsin disagree with Democratic President Joe Biden’s priorities and enormous spending plans. America’s deepening debt, under the current and previous presidents, will burden our children and grandchildren.

But this money has already been approved to address the lost year of learning during the pandemic. So Wisconsin should graciously accept it for our students.

The U.S. Department of Education recently warned Wisconsin that the $128 million increase in state school spending approved by the Legislature’s budget committee likely isn’t enough for the state to qualify for all of the $1.5 billion in federal education funding.

Republicans on the finance committee approved a 1% increase in state aid to local schools. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had proposed a 12% hike of $1.6 billion for K-12 education.

Add in the $1.5 billion from the federal government, and state Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, calls the potential increase for Wisconsin schools “obscene.”

It’s certainly large and historic. But the amount of money Wisconsin has collected from the federal government in the past is low, compared to most states. So complaining about extra dollars now — especially during a pandemic — is a mistake.

Not that such Republican resistance is unusual. The GOP-led Legislature has made Wisconsin one of the few states that continues to decline billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid. While it’s true that a lot of those federal health dollars still flow to Wisconsin as subsidies for individuals to participate in the Affordable Care Act, accepting the Medicaid money would save the state $1.6 billion over two years, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

And let’s not forget that former GOP Gov. Scott Walker rejected more than $800 million in federal money for a high-speed train between Milwaukee and Madison a decade ago. Those dollars went to other states instead of Wisconsin. Just as bad, Wisconsin had to cover more cost for its existing passenger rail system.

Born and other Republican leaders should employ more pragmatism. The Fiscal Bureau estimates the state budget must commit $387 million more for K-12 schools — a reasonable 3% increase — to qualify for all of the $1.5 billion in federal money. The full Legislature should make sure that happens in a direct and clear way that the federal government will recognize and accept.

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Racine Journal Times. June 7, 2021.

Editorial: This summer, let’s be careful behind the wheel

We’re getting back outside after more than a year stuck inside, with little to do for fun even if we did go out.

It’s safe to say there’s some pent-up energy being released.

There’s excitement, but we can’t let that excitement jeopardize our safety, or the safety of our fellow community members.

Especially behind the wheel.

Sadly, it seems that Americans’ driving is becoming worse.

A total of 38,680 people died on U.S. roads last year, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That is a 7.2% increase from 2019 and, remarkably, came even as total vehicle miles traveled declined by more than 13%, Axios.com reported. It adds up to 1.37 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from 1.11 the year before.

— The data get worse the more you break them down, Axios reported:

— Fatalities involving speeding were up 11%, while deaths involving unrestrained passengers jumped 15%.

— Deaths that were caused by crashes so extreme that an occupant was ejected from the vehicle were up 20%.

Deaths among those aged 16–24 rose 15%.

Reckless driving had fatal consequences in the Town of Porter in Rock County on Memorial Day: Two people were killed and six were injured when two pickup trucks collided after one ran a stop sign at a Highway 14 intersection on Monday afternoon, the Rock County Sheriff’s Office reported.

Investigators determined that a Chevrolet Trailblazer that was northbound on North Tuttle Road failed to stop at the stop sign at Highway 14 and collided with a 1999 Chevrolet Silverado that was eastbound on 14, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The crash caused the Silverado to spin around, hit and snap a power pole, while the Trailblazer continued northeast into a farm field and rolled before coming to a stop, Falk said.

A male passenger was ejected from the Silverado and pronounced dead at the scene. A male and female were ejected from the Trailblazer, and the male was later pronounced dead at an area hospital, Falk said.

The four other occupants of the Silverado, the female that was ejected from the Trailblazer and the other male passenger in the Trailblazer were transported to area hospitals for various injuries sustained in the crash, Falk said.

Two lives ended, and six other lives drastically altered, because a driver ran a stop sign.

Don’t become a statistic yourself.

Drive the speed limit, don’t tailgate the car in front of you, and put your phone down.

And if you’ve been drinking, give your keys to someone who hasn’t.

Let’s enjoy every day of the summer. We can do that tomorrow by playing it safe today.

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Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. June 6, 2021.

Editorial: King should step aside during investigation

This is a hard editorial to write. It’s not one we thought we’d be presenting a few days ago, nor is it one we take any particular pleasure in writing. But District Attorney Gary King needs to step aside for now.

The allegations about King’s behavior are serious. The fact County Administrator Kathryn Schauf found it necessary to instruct King not to have one-on-one contact with employees in his office is disturbing. Those employees are, unlike King himself, county employees. Schauf was well within her rights to step in and protect them against unwanted advances, especially given the extensive documentation and timeline related to King’s purported acts.

County prosecutorial offices have a responsibility to pursue cases that involve harassment, intimidation, stalking and other criminal behaviors that occur between former (sometimes current) romantic partners. It’s difficult to see how victims in such cases would have the same confidence in their side’s representation when the office charged with doing so is led by someone facing accusations of sexual harassment.

Administrative steps have a different standard than the courts and it’s important to note that the sexual harassment accusations are, at this point, not proven to the satisfaction of any court. The same apparently cannot be said of King’s sobriety in court.

In mid-February, King’s behavior was unusual enough that he was confronted by Sheriff Ron Cramer, who wrote a contemporaneous report on the incident. King declined at that time to take a breath test and he denied being intoxicated. He had no such option last week, when a judge ordered him to take a breath test and canceled the scheduled hearing after receiving the results.

Judges strongly dislike such last-minute cancellations. They’re not good for anyone. Not for the attorneys who have had their time wasted, the court that has had its schedule upended, nor for the parties in the case who are owed justice. While the test results have not been released, it’s difficult to see a judge taking such a step unless there were serious questions about King’s ability to meet his obligations.

It’s important to note that, as of this writing, nothing has been proven. There are ongoing investigations. It would be in the community’s best interests for King to step aside until the investigations arrive at conclusions of their own and recommend the next steps.

Such a decision may well be in King’s best personal interests. If, as the available evidence implies, we’re dealing with a question of alcohol use, King needs to take care of himself. It’s hard to do that with the pressure that comes along with appearing in court and prosecuting cases. Prosecutions require intimate, detailed knowledge of the crime committed. That can be a tremendous psychological burden, and it’s one someone facing internal challenges doesn’t need. A report sent to the county concluded that work pressures did indeed play a significant role in King’s actions.

We take no satisfaction from these conclusions. There isn’t a winner in this situation. Frankly, there is no good outcome. But the standing of the court system remains of paramount importance.

County Board Chairman Nick Smiar called the courts “the heart of our governance.” It is the one branch of government in which there is a fundamental presumption of fairness for those involved. No one really thinks legislative bodies always play nicely or that members are fair to one another. It might be the goal, the ideal, but we’ve seen too many examples of the opposite for that to be the expectation. The same goes for executives, who have too often diminished their own standing with their own petty squabbles at the state and federal levels.

But the courts? While trust in the courts has slipped in recent years they are by far the most trusted branch of government. There are flaws, but there is at least the opportunity for impartiality. There is the opportunity for fairness, that rare thing all want but few receive.

Maintaining that fairness, preserving that trust, requires those representing the state, those who represent those who have been wronged or are accused of wrongdoing, and those who represent the court itself to have a level of integrity beyond that required for most jobs. It’s not enough to be upstanding. They must be seen to be upstanding. And, right now, that’s a bar King can’t reach.

We make no judgement on the allegations here. But, until the investigations are concluded, King, the court, and the people of Eau Claire County would be best served by him standing down until the current investigations are completed.

END