Showing little disagreement on most issues, candidates for Milton School Board expressed unanimous support for the district’s $59.9 million referendum at a forum Thursday.
Tensions have flared among current school board members in recent weeks. But the four candidates vying for two seats on the board barely sparred at the forum, which was hosted by the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce at City Hall.
Candidates for city council and mayor also participated in the event, moderated by Stan Stricker of WCLO radio.
Mike Pierce is the sole incumbent in the school board election. He faces challengers Harvey Smith, Rick Ehle and Rick Mullen on April 2. Board member Don Vruwink, a state representative, is not seeking re-election.
Each candidate said he supports the district’s facilities referendum, which calls for additions and renovations to almost every district school. The candidates also pointed to the district’s teachers and educational offerings as examples of what they are most proud of.
Mullen, a pharmacist at Mercyhealth, mentioned the ongoing tension among board members and “divisiveness” in the community. He said the district’s reputation has “taken a hit.”
“I wish more time and energy was spent worrying about the things we have in common and how to fix those things,” Mullen said.
Candidates dismissed any notion that the board is broken when Stricker asked how they would overcome the board’s divisions. The district is currently being investigated for its handling of administrative stipends and compliance with school board policies.
The investigation was not mentioned during Thursday’s forum.
Pierce, who served on the board from 1994 to 2012 and was appointed to a one-year term last year, said the school board works well 90 percent of the time. He said members might not agree, but they shouldn’t be disagreeable, and he called for respect.
Mullen also said the board isn’t broken and that he would be an asset because he maintains relationships with current board members.
Smith lauded current members for overcoming criticisms that were lobbed against them last year. He said the current referendum package is not perfect, but he praised board members for collaborating on it. He said the district should be thinking about the future of education.
Ehle said the referendum is “not the Taj Mahal” but will satisfy the district’s needs. He said operational costs continue to increase and that voters are looking for transparency, clarity and honesty from the board when considering if they will support the referendum.
“People certainly do understand our needs,” Ehle said. “They understand the overcrowding. They understand the aging facilities. However, they want to know where every dollar is spent. And they have the right to know.”
But Ehle said voters might have unanswered questions about the referendum, such as if the district will need more janitors to care for the expanding facilities.
City council candidates also expressed support for the district’s referendum in a forum before the school board’s event.
Each stopped short of saying the city council should endorse it.
Three city council seats are up for grabs. Alderman Larry Laehn and Alderwoman Theresa Rusch, who did not attend Thursday’s forum, are seeking re-election. Devin Elliott and Bill Wilson are running as write-in candidates to replace Jeremy Zajac, who is not seeking re-election.
General Motors might have closed 10 years ago, but its influence on Rock County’s economy remains.
For decades, GM and companies in related industries defined Janesville and the surrounding area.
Manufacturing remains the top employment sector in the county, but it has begun to transform into a warehousing and logistics hub thanks to its location on the state line, Interstate 90/39 running through it and the network of smaller highways that connect nearby communities, said Rhonda Suda, CEO of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.
GM was the main reason why the robust transportation network that has helped the local economy thrive today developed in the first place, she said.
“No doubt in my mind that when you have an organization like GM—the number of employees it had, the number of products that gets moved in and out—that a lot of the infrastructure we had is because of what we needed when GM was here,” Suda said.
When the recession hit, business closures dominated local and national headlines. Then the cuts leveled off, and eventually, companies started to relocate here, she said.
Just a few years removed from people struggling to find work, the pendulum has swung dramatically in the opposite direction.
The Dollar General warehouse that opened a few years ago brought entry-level jobs that paid $15 an hour. That was something that had not been present locally for a long time, Suda said.
But perhaps the pendulum has swung too far.
Record-low unemployment rates and an aging population across the state have made it difficult for companies to fill job openings. A few years ago, Suda’s board said for every four people reaching retirement, there was only one person available to replace them.
“It’s an issue of not really having enough people,” she said. “There’s increased competition between employers to get what they would say would be the very best.”
That gives those seeking new jobs flexibility in practically any industry they wish—with the notable exception of retail. Jobs in brick-and-mortar stores can be difficult to find, Suda said.
For the past year, Janesville has touted its need for more housing. The recession halted home construction and left fledgling subdivisions stuck in neutral.
The empty lots are still there, waiting for those who want to relocate to Janesville and fill the jobs available here.
Finding those people is the first step.
“Is it simply not enough people? Is it not enough skilled people?” Suda said. “Or is it a combination of both?”
Gertrude H. Grice
The Rev. William Clifford Zanton
Gas taxes would increase but the cost to fill up could actually go down, income taxes would be cut for the middle class, and most of the laws passed during a lame-duck legislative session that weakened the governor and attorney general would be repealed under Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ first budget.
Evers’ budget, unveiled Thursday, checks off numerous items on Democratic wish lists but will run into a Republican buzz saw. Majority Republicans denounced the plan as nothing more than a liberal wish list.
Items they oppose include expanding Medicaid coverage to 82,000 more people, freezing enrollment in private voucher schools, scaling back a manufacturing tax credit program and legalizing medical marijuana.
Evers implored lawmakers to work together to reach a deal on his budget.
“We cannot afford to play politics with this budget,” Evers said in his remarks as prepared for delivery. “Folks, the stakes are simply too high. ... I’ve said all along that there’s more that unites us than divides us. We just have to choose to put people before politics.”
While Republican leaders said they hoped to find parts to compromise on, they also planned to write their own alternative budget.
“To me, it’s a thousand-page press release, not a budget,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, adding that Evers’ plan is the “greatest hits” of the Democratic Party.
“This budget is a liberal tax-and-spend wish list,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.
Evers also called for repealing Wisconsin’s ”right-to-work” law and reinstating prevailing wage requirements, actions taken by former Gov. Scott Walker that weakened powers of unions in Wisconsin. However, Evers’ proposed budget doesn’t touch Walker’s signature move, the Act 10 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.
In another swipe at Walker’s legacy, he would undo work and drug test requirements Republicans put in place for people to qualify for Medicaid and food stamps.
The plan’s unveiling during a joint meeting of the Legislature on Thursday night kicks off the monthslong process of lobbying, cajoling, bartering and begging to get a deal that Evers and Republicans can agree to this summer.
Republicans in December met in a lame-duck session to weaken Evers and incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul just days before they took office. Four lawsuits have been filed challenging all or parts of the laws, but Evers is proposing repeal of nearly everything enacted.
Republicans are almost certainly not going to undo those measures.
Evers, the former state schools chief, is also calling for a $1.4 billion boost in K-12 education funding, a 10 percent income tax cut targeting the middle class and a $150 million boost for the UW System.
He wants to extend in-state tuition to people here illegally who graduated from Wisconsin high schools and are pursuing citizenship. He would also make people in the country illegally eligible for driver’s license and ID cards. Republicans oppose both measures.
He would increase the state minimum wage to $8.25 in 2020, $9 in 2021 and then tie future increases to inflation.
Evers does not call for building a new prison to deal with overcrowding, but would add three barracks at two existing facilities to house about 430 additional inmates. He does not raise hunting, fishing or camping fees, but does propose raising the 32.9-cent per-gallon gas tax by 8 cents, with inflationary increases after that.
To mitigate that, he would repeal the state’s minimum mark-up law on fuel. That law prohibits the sale of gas below what it costs a retailer to purchase, resulting in a roughly 9 percent markup at the pump. Evers estimated that doing away with that would shave 14 cents off a gallon of gas.
His transportation plan increases vehicle title fees and heavy truck registration fees but does not increase the $75 registration fee paid by most vehicle owners. It would boost funding for highways by $320 million, finishes work on the Zoo Interchange Interstate project in Milwaukee County and funds expansion of Interstate 43 in Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties.
Under the budget, state property taxes on the median-valued home would increase $50 in each of the next two years.
Spending under the $83.4 billion, two-year budget would increase 5.4 percent the first year and 4.9 percent the second year. Evers pays for most of the spending through the higher gas tax, reducing the manufacturing tax credit, tapping projected revenue growth and accepting federal money through the Medicaid expansion. Taxes overall would increase by about $550 million over two years.
The new budget year starts July 1. If the Legislature has not passed a budget Evers can sign by then, the old one remains in effect.
In 2017, when Walker was governor and Republicans controlled the Legislature, disagreement over transportation funding delayed passage until September. In 2007, the last time there was divided government, the budget was not signed until October.
President Donald Trump framed the breakdown of his nuclear summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un as wisely knowing when “to walk.” But the stunning collapse revealed the limits of his brand of personal diplomacy and raised concerns about future efforts to disarm a global threat.
Eyeing the history books and a much-needed political victory, Trump bet big on the two-day Vietnam summit only to be forced to explain away its sudden failure.
The president and North Korea gave conflicting explanations of what went wrong, though the result actually was a relief to some critics and even some Trump supporters who feared he might give too much away in pursuit of a deal.
Trump, the businessman who was elected in part on his boasts of deal-making prowess, said a proposed agreement was “ready to be signed.” But he said he refused to accept what he described as North Korean insistence that all U.S. sanctions be lifted without the North committing to eliminate its nuclear arsenal.
“I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” the president said. “We’re in position to do something very special.”
The North said it had demanded only partial relief from the punishing sanctions.
Trump had pushed for the summit, telling wary aides that his personal chemistry with North Korea’s young and reclusive leader outweighed any need for detailed, staff-level talks to iron out differences before either head of state set foot in Hanoi.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who along with his special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, had been leading the preparatory effort, said staff work had achieved some results but that negotiators had intentionally left some of the most contentious issues unresolved.
“We were hoping we could take another big swing when the two leaders got together,” he told reporters as he flew from Vietnam to the Philippines after the summit collapsed. “We did. We made some progress. But we didn’t get as far as we would have hoped we would have gotten.”
Pompeo noted that “when you are dealing with a country that is of the nature of North Korea, it is often the case that only the most senior leaders have the capacity to make those important decisions.”
Echoing the refrain that “no deal is better than a bad deal”—often used during the Obama administration by critics of its Iran negotiations—there was relief in some quarters that the president had not impulsively agreed to concessions without much in return.
“Kudos to him for walking away from the table,” said Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think-tank that has been highly skeptical of Trump’s efforts with Kim Jong Un. “No deal is, in fact, better than a bad deal.”
And White House aides stressed that Trump stood strong. Some observers evoked the 1987 Reykjavík summit between Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev, a meeting that ended without a nuclear weapons deal but laid the groundwork for a future agreement.
Long-standing U.S. policy insists that American sanctions on North Korea will not be lifted until that country commits to, if not concludes, a complete, verifiable and irreversible end to its nuclear weapons program.
Trump, who did not consult with allies South Korea and Japan before breaking off the talks, declined to restate that goal Thursday, saying he wanted to retain flexibility with Kim.
But North Korea’s foreign minister, in a rare news conference, said that Trump wasted an opportunity that “may not come again” and that the North’s position wouldn’t change even if there was another round of dialogue.
The failure in Hanoi laid bare a risk in Trump’s negotiating style: Preferring one-on-one meetings with his foreign counterparts, his administration doesn’t always do the staff-level advance work intended to make a summit more of a victory lap than a negotiation.
“The developments over the past 48 hours highlight in stark fashion the inherent weaknesses of President Trump’s preference for summit diplomacy—international media spectacles that have failed to achieve substantial progress on the key issues, especially denuclearization,” said Paul Haenle, the director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.
Unsurprisingly, former Obama administration officials agreed.
“At every step of the way, Trump has placed himself, rather than professionals, at the center of this process—and as a result, he’s been outmaneuvered every step of the way,” the National Security Action, a group of mainly Obama-era foreign policy practitioners, said in a statement.
Michael Fuchs, who worked on Asian issues as a State Department official under Obama, said there should be no more summits until the two sides are ready to announce a concrete agreement. “Let the real negotiators from both sides get to work,” he said. “Until then, no more reality TV summitry.”
One beneficiary of the Vietnam summit might have been the North Korean leader.
The first Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore gave the reclusive nation’s leader an entry to the international stage. The second appeared to grant him the legitimacy his family has long desired.
Kim, for the first time, affably parried with the international press without having to account for his government’s long history of oppression. He secured Trump’s support for the opening of a liaison office in Pyongyang without offering any concessions of his own. Trump’s backing for that step toward normalization provided the sort of recognition the international community has long denied Kim’s government.
Experts worried that the darker side of Kim’s leadership was being brushed aside. That includes massive human rights abuses, prison camps filled with dissidents, an absence of religious and speech freedoms, and the executions of government and military officials.
Trump also appeared to accept the North Korean leader’s assertion that he had nothing to do with the 2017 death of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was imprisoned for allegedly taking a propaganda poster while on a visit to the country.
The president said he took Kim “at his word” that he was unaware of the mistreatment Warmbier was subjected to in custody, a remark that drew widespread criticism, even from Trump’s former U.N. ambassador.
“Americans know the cruelty that was placed on Otto Warmbier by the North Korean regime,” former Ambassador Nikki Haley said.
Still, Robert Gallucci, who negotiated with North Korea as a senior State Department official during the Clinton administration, said the unorthodox way in which the two North Korea summits were organized, might not have been a mistake given the unusual nature of the two leaders.
“It does have its downsides, and we just experienced the downside,” Gallucci said. However, Hanoi wasn’t a total disaster as long as the two sides are willing to keep at it, he added.
“I’m feeling good because nothing really bad happened, and we have a prospect of using the momentum of the meeting of heads of state to propel working-level discussions with the understanding here that both sides have invested politically in this and leaders have invested personally in this, and they want it to work,” Gallucci said.