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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

The Associated PressApril 1, 2019

Kenosha News, March 28

Record national debt should be call to action, no matter your politics

When it comes to our national debt, February set a record that should get the attention of every American.

The Treasury Department reported late last month that the federal government posted the largest monthly budget deficit in history in February, with outlays exceeding revenues by a staggering $234 billion.

This was 8 percent larger than the $215 billion recorded in February 2018, and it’s clearly going in the wrong direction.

What will this cost us if we don’t reverse the course?

“A child born today inherits more than a $67,000 share of the combined U.S. debt. We need a balanced budget amendment for the sake of our children and their children,” read an alarming tweet recently.

The tweet was sent by former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a fiscal conservative, but could easily have come from a progressive Democrat.

It should be a call to action, no matter your politics. And as Democrats announce one after another for the presidency, we should hear this from all of them. In fact, it should be one of the top questions of every debate, and it should be asked of President Trump at every opportunity.

The fiscal shortfall is widening following Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax-cuts package that’s weighing on receipts and raising concerns about the national debt load.

Walker is now serving as national honorary chairman of the Center for State-led National Debt Solutions’ campaign to convene an unprecedented U.S. constitutional convention to balance the federal budget.

In 2017, Wisconsin became the 28th state to request an Article V convention — named for the article of the U.S. Constitution that sanctions the process. According to the Constitution, two-thirds of the states (34) must request such a convention for one to occur.

Walker will lead a campaign to get six more states to make the request. Any constitutional amendments proposed during a convention would have to be ratified by three-fourths of states (38).

“With Gov. Walker’s involvement, the national campaign for a balanced budget amendment finally has the high-profile leader it has lacked,” said the center’s president Loren Enns.

The effort should get attention as Americans learn more about the problem and ask the candidates and their representatives at every opportunity what they are going to do about it.

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The Journal Times of Racine, March 27

Looking for compromise, consensus on capital budget from Madison

At first blush, the 4-4 party line deadlock by the Wisconsin Building Commission over Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed capital budget to fund building needs across the state seemed dismaying.

News reports called the GOP-led rejection of Evers $2.5 billion proposal “unprecedented” for rejecting “a host of typically bipartisan feel-good initiatives before the commission.” That included such things as funding a University of Wisconsin cancer research center, improving state park campgrounds, upgrading veterans homes and cemeteries, funding a new Wisconsin state history museum and renovating UW’s Camp Randall Stadium and the Kohl Center.

Evers and Democrats said the deadlock could put at risk the health and safety of public workers in dilapidated buildings, some of which are 45 to 70 years old.

There may be some truth to that.

State GOP leaders countered that Evers proposal was “unrealistic and unsustainable” and noted it was three times as large as former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s last capital budget request.

There is some truth to that as well.

So now that Evers and GOP leaders have staked out their political positions it’s time to get down to the hard task of setting priorities and decide which state building projects need to stay on the list — and which ones can move down and be deferred or pared back.

There is a bit of a Christmas-tree look to Evers’ proposal — a lot of ornaments and baubles — and yes, they would probably be nice, but the job of the governor and GOP-controlled Legislature is to determine just what kind of a tree Wisconsin can afford and how long state taxpayers will be paying for it.

We are particularly concerned by the fact that proposed building plan would be heavily based on increased borrowing — $2 billion, compared to $100 million under Walker’s last budget. That raises red flags for a state that usually likes to pay as we go.

At the same time, we are encouraged by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ words that most of Evers’ capital budget requests could be worthy of funding. “There’s a lot of worthwhile projects in here,” said Vos, R-Rochester.

That seems like a good place to start and the deadlock in the building commission vote may just be a bump in the road. We would hope — and expect — the governor and the Legislature to move past the letters R for Republican and D for Democrat and instead focus on two C’s — compromise and consensus — and build a solid, affordable capital budget that best serves the needs of Wisconsin.

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Wisconsin State Journal, March 31

Dairy farmers need profits, not handouts

Before Wisconsin starts thinking dairy farmers will join fur traders and lead miners as relics of bygone eras, the state should consider this: Changes in government policy and in the marketplace suggest America’s Dairyland is not fading into history anytime soon.

Dairy farmers continue to face longstanding challenges that are squeezing many out of business. But this year, dairy provisions in the new Farm Bill promise a better safety net. Second, with more farmers having been forced out of business, milk production is expected to decline, boosting prices for those who remain.

As a result, policymakers in Washington and Madison should avoid knee-jerk reactions to the farmers’ dilemma. Rather, they should focus on solutions to the long-term economics of dairying.

Dairy farmers are important to Wisconsin’s economy and its identity. That’s why the state is known as America’s Dairyland, and why we call ourselves Cheeseheads. Wisconsin is home to more dairy farms than any other state. We are No. 1 in cheese production. The dairy industry contributes $43 billion a year to the state’s economy.

But dairy farmers are in trouble. Prices for their milk fell almost 40 percent from 2014 through last year. The prolonged price drop was more than many farmers could survive. Last year, nearly two Wisconsin dairy farms per day went out of business. It was a continuation of a long-term trend toward consolidation. In the past decade, the number of Wisconsin dairy farms is down by 40 percent, though milk production is up.

In response to the trend and to other economic changes, a state lawmaker even proposed removing the nickname America’s Dairyland from the state’s car license plates.

The root of the problem is that farmers are doing what they are supposed to do: improving their efficiency, producing more milk from fewer cows. But demand has not kept pace. Consequently, the market is awash in milk, driving prices ever lower. Farmers respond by trying to get even more efficient, which increases supply and depresses prices in a vicious cycle.

For centuries, governments worldwide have tried to protect farmers from market squeezes and weather catastrophes. The goal is to keep food available and affordable for consumers. Toward that end, the 2018 Farm Bill established a much-improved program to support dairy farmers with a new insurance plan. Farmers can buy cheap insurance that will pay them benefits when their income falls below a level of coverage chosen by the farmer. This Dairy Margin Coverage insurance program should support farmers better than previous programs and should cost taxpayers less, too.

Meanwhile, several proposals have emerged to add more short-term supports for farmers. Those proposals range from setting an emergency minimum price for milk to buying up surplus products to boost prices. These shortsighted programs would penalize taxpayers and consumers and should be rejected.

Lawmakers should instead allow the new dairy insurance program and improving markets to steady the dairy economy. Demand can be improved by concluding better trade agreements. Agreements already negotiated with Canada and Mexico should be approved, and President Trump should close a deal with China.

Dairy farmers are emerging from one of their most difficult periods. But challenges remain.

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