Thursday, March 29, 2007

Profit Sharing?

Tucked away on page three of the JT is an article about the huge Point Blue residential development. The article indicates that the developer will be sharing profits with the city, once his costs are covered. Details of the agreement were non-existant, but this much we know. The developer will be getting 16 acres of lakefront property from the city of Racine, for free! He will also be getting tax breaks for years. If this is what is meant by profit sharing, I am ready to share.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

If I Were A School Board Candidate

The school board candidates were asked three questions at a recent forum. Their answers are in today's JT A+ section. The following are the questions, and how I would have answered them.

Q: What is your vision for Racine Unified?
A: Actually, political visions are the problem. When politicians enforce their visions, they are undermining the visions parents have for their children. I do not assume that my vision is superior to the vision that a parent has for his or her children. So what we need to do is return power to parents, so that their visions will be taken seriously. The best way to do that, that I know of, is to provide school vouchers to parents. That way, parents could send their children to the school that best meets their needs and their visions for their children. Beware of politicians with visions.

Q: Should the School Board reflect the community's racial diversity?
A: No, not necessarily. The function of a school board is to oversee the delivery of public education. As such, I can only hope that the best qualified individuals will be chosen by voters, regardless of their skin color. To vote for or against someone because of their skin color is a racist act. It is my hope that racists will not affect the school board race.

Q: What are your thoughts on a possible referendum?
A: I am opposed to another referendum for a number of reasons. Presently, RUSD is receiving over $12,000 per student. That is more than the tuition of each of our private schools, with the possible exception of Prairie School. So long as the public mistakenly believes in the propaganda that our public schools are underfunded, we will not be able to address the real problems, most of which stem from the nearly unchecked influence of the teachers union.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Raise the Price on Losers

Several decades ago, Racine was known for its businesses. People and capital flocked to Racine. The benefits of moving to Racine evidently outweighed the costs, and Racine's population increased.

Racine's population has been in decline now for many years. Many businesses have closed down or left for other areas. Evidently, for many people, the benefits of leaving Racine, or never coming here in the first place, have exceeded the costs.

Some costs are beyond our control as a community. Others are not. The one thing that we could control are the costs we impose on ourselves, our residents, our businesses, etc... through our collective decisions, ie government.

Somewhere along the way, Racine began to punish success and reward failure. We still do, and the results are in.

The people who have left Racine were the most productive. Simultaneously, Racine became a haven for the unproductive.

Few people in Racine, especially politicians, will tell it like it is. Racine now has a disproportionate number of losers. And these losers continue to impose costs on Racine in the form of crime, bad parenting, unproductivity, etc... while demanding more from the productive members of society.

We need to change the cost structure in Racine. We need to raise the price on losers and lower the price for productive members of society.

In so doing, our losers will either be compelled to change, or they will find other communities to destroy, hopefully the former. At the same time, a cost structure that does not punish success will have the effect of attracting winners to Racine.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Who's Bilking Who?

"They face the same enemy: unchecked corporate power and super profit taking."
"Profit, not weapons of mass destruction, was the motive for our incursion into Iraq."
"President Bush and his cronies have bilked the American people out of hundreds of billions of dollars that they funneled into private profit."
"The lust for corporate profit has driven the immigration tragedy..."
" free trade agreements...keep the third world enslaved by the first world and allow super-profit taking by first world-based transnational corporations."
"So Halliburton is making huge profits off the backs of the undocumented."

These are the words of Horlick High School teachers Al levie and Ryan Knudsen in a commentary in today's Journal Times. My turn.

"We face the same enemy: the unchecked political power of the teachers union."
"Profit, not education, is what motivates the teachers union."
"Al, Ryan, and their cronies have bilked the residents of the Racine area out of hundreds of millions of dollars that they have funneled into private profit and elaborate health benefits."
"The lust for referendum cash has driven our education tragedy."
"Our so-called school board, the teachers union and RUSD administration...keep our poor children trapped in failing public schools that allow for super-profit taking for RUSD employees." "Al and Ryan are making huge profits off the backs of the uneducated."

That was too easy. Is Unified hiring?

Numbers to Ponder #2

It took over a month but Unified finally provided me with the number of students from Racine and Caledonia. Caledonia has 3,063 RUSD students and Racine has 14,509 RUSD students. Caledonians pay $4,244 in local property taxes for every Caledonia student while Racinians pay only $1,585 in local property taxes per Racine student. Now if you consider that local taxes account for only about 27% of RUSD funding, while state and federal taxes account for the rest, Caledonians pay a whopping $15,702 per Caledonian student while Racinians pay just $5,864 per Racinian student.

Given the huge amount that Caledonians pay per Caledonian student ($15,702), it would seem possible that they could fund their own district. However, given Caledonia's wealth relative to Racine, it is a near certainty that they would get less money per student from the state than does RUSD. Secondly, if a Caledonia school district was able to offer a decent or at least safe education to children, you can be sure that more students would want to attend, thereby driving up the cost.

The question Caledonians should be asking of themselves and their representatives is whether they want to continue to pay large sums to subsidize the substandard education of Racine children while many of their own children opt out of the district. Furthermore, do they want to be a community with a school district that attracts families to the area, or one that scares them away?

I don't live in Caledonia, but if I did I would at the very least be interested in paying a small amount to get the facts, study the issue, and debate the pros and cons of having a seperate school district.

Meeting with Mayor Becker

I met with Racine mayor Gary Becker yesterday to discuss a few things.

Regarding my downtown rehab project, we would like to have windows installed on the north side of our building. No problem except that the owners of the neighboring vacant lot may some day wish to develop their property, and if they do, the windows would either need to be blocked in or fire-rated in order to meet code. Mayor Becker called in the city attorney, and it looks like we will be able to draw up an agreement wherin we will modify our property to meet code should our neighbors ever wish to develop the property.

I also hoped to gain some understanding of an impending water REC fee of up to six thousand dollars that I will have to pay in order to get a building permit. The REC fees are part of the recent water agreement wherin new development will pay for the expansion of the water treatment facility. The problem that I have about this is that the expansion was needed to accomodate suburban growth. The city is losing population. Thus my initial suspicions were verified. I am being taxed to pay for suburban sprawl. I don't like this one bit but there is nothing I can do about it now.

Lastly I hoped to convince Mayor Becker to consider a program that would encourage development in the city. My idea (it turns out others have already enacted the idea that I thought was original) is that new development would not have to pay taxes on their improvements for some fixed period of time. Mayor Becker had heard of similar programs. He indicated that they could try something like that when they target Uptown for improvement. Hopefully he will give the idea serious consideration.

All in all it was an interesting meeting and I am appreciative that Mayor Becker reacted quickly in resolving the code issue that we are facing.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dear Mr. Stanford

Dear Mr. Stanford;

I just finished reading your column entitled "Reflections on reality of racism" and I would like to offer a few thoughts on the subject.

If I have absorbed the basic jist of your commentary, it is that there are racist structures in place in society that may not be the result of individual racial intent.

Perhaps so. If so, then the collective "we" are not evil racists, just bumbling idiots.

And indeed I think this is the case. I will offer a few examples.

Public schools are failing in urban areas, with black students harmed the most. One way to counter this problem is to increase the options available to black students, and others, through school vouchers. This common sense approach to education reform is vigorously opposed by the teachers unions throughout our country.

Many suburban areas restrict residential development to large homes on large lots. These restrictions are often praised as environmentally responsible developments that preserve green space. Perhaps they do, but they also limit the property rights of individuals while also ensuring that no low income housing is developed in those areas. This keeps many blacks locked in the urban ghettoes.

If there is a sure fire way to impede the progress of blacks in this country, it is to herd them into ghettoes and force them into failing schools. The common thread of these public policies is that they are applauded by liberals. Whether these liberals are overtly racist or bumbling idiots matters not to the blacks, and others, harmed by their policies.

I will be posting my response to you on my blog, Feel free to respond to my e-mail, if you wish, on my site. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Subsidizing Sprawl

As my regular readers may know, I am starting a rehab project in my downtown building. I will be converting a formerly vacant 2nd floor apartment/retail space into two apartments. Everything looks fine on the permit front and the city is not imposing any excessively burdensome requirements on us. However, it seems we will have to pay up to $3,000 per unit to the water department. Now I already have water going into the building and up to the second floor, and of course I will be paying my water bills like everyone else. But this tax/fee is imposed, I'm told, to recoup the cost of the expansion of the water treatment plant.

Until now, it was my understanding that the recent water agreement between Racine and the outlying communities was such that Racine would be getting enough money from the other communities, and then some, such that Racine residents and businesses would not be paying the bill. And this makes sense because Racine's population is decreasing and presumably Racine's demand for water would likewise be decreasing. Thus the expansion was not for Racine's benefit but for the outlying areas that would be demanding more water. Therefore, they should pay for the water if they want it. Racine residents and businesses should not.

Why are Racine residents and business owners subsidizing the water bills of our wealthier suburban neighbors?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Call to Hall

I placed a call to Ken Hall today, to offer him an opportunity to weigh in on the Kay/Denis spat. Ken did not know anything about it. Perhaps he has the good sense to be doing something else with his time. But if I might summarize his views on the subject, he essentially made no distinction between anonymous bloggers spreading lies and mistruths about him, and the handiwork of Kay from BlueRacine. In one sense, I think he has a point. People are going to say and write whatever they want, especially as they now have a format to do so anonymously on the various blogs. But on the other hand, Kay is openly (as in not anonymously) declaring here disdain for Mac and her support for Hall, while also offering an exceedingly crude jab at Christians. So while her support for Hall is not official, according to Hall, she nonetheless is a quite visible supporter of Hall.

Of course Ken Hall can campaign in any way that he pleases. But if I were in a serious campaign for the county's top job, I would quite publicly distance myself from people who make crude jokes about masterbating Christian Jihadists. But then, I finished third in my run for the CE job, so perhaps I am not the best to offer campaign advice.

The offer still stands for Ken Hall to weigh in on Kay's vitriolic comments. To me, silence amounts to a de facto endorsement.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Banking On Bankruptcy

"Employees would be paid before bankers if a business goes bankrupt under a bill introduced this week by Sen. John Lehmann, D-Racine."

Sounds great at first but let us think this one through. Lehmann's bill would make lending to businesses a more risky proposition. Banks tend to be conservative lenders, insisting on such things as collateral. If loaning to businesses becomes unacceptably risky for banks, they will invest elsewhere. In other words, Wisconsin businesses will not have the same access to capital relative to businesses in other states. This will put Wisconsin businesses at a competitive disadvantage. With less access to capital, more Wisconsin businesses will more likely go bankrupt.

Will this be a good thing for Wisconsin's workers?

Progressively More Hate Filled

"I've always wondered how many of these religious right wingers have one hand down their pants while they're typing out their own fantasies as things to issue Christian jihads on."

That lovely quote belongs to Racine Democratic Party activist Kay of Kay apparently is also campaigning for Ken Hall for county executive. I like Ken Hall, even though we may well differ substantially on political matters. Even so, I hope he has the good sense to distance himself from his progressively more hate filled supporters.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Betting on Corruption

I want to be in the gambling business. But alas, I am not a Native American, so I am barred from the profession. But all is not lost. I think I can help a Indian tribe throught the political process such that they can open up a lucrative casino right here in Wisconsin. No doubt a casino will net billions over time for the tribe. They need me to get the license. My role is worth millions to the tribe.

There is only one way to open a legal casino. There is no free market in the casino business. The path to opening a casino is entirely political. One must have tremendous influence with politicians in order to secure a casino license.

Like most people, politicians like nice people. But there are lots of nice people, and there are not lots of casino licenses. Being nice to politicians will not get you a casino license.

Politicians can be swayed by persuasive argument. But I suspect that numerous Indian tribes could make a solid case that they could run a reputable casino. Persuasive arguments will not get you a casino.

Politicians like to win elections. It takes money, in the form of campaign contributions, to win elections.

If you want to open a casino, be nice to politicians, offer persuasive arguments, and give them money. Give them more money than anyone else. Give money to friends and family and have them give the money to the politicians that can help you.

I don't gamble much, but I am willing to bet that every casino opening in this country will increase the level of government corruption. I am giving 1000 to one odds.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

How About a MicroTIF?

Developers and politicians often scratch each others backs. One method in vogue is the TIF, or Tax Incremental Financing. The jist of it is that project developers get tax breaks thanks to their pals in government, and the pols get some wink wink nod nod campaign contributions. It is a win win for everybody, or so they claim, because the public gets the jobs from the development project and the additional tax revenue that will come later. In reality the taxpayer is simply taking on the risk while the developer gets the profits. It is a scam basically.

It is a scam unless all developers get tax breaks. Yes, even the person that wants to remodel his kitchen. If large developments benefit the public, then small developments will also benefit the public. There will be more work for carpenters, electricians, plumbers, architects, etc... just like with the large developments. With increased development, property values will rise, and after the tax grace period expires, property tax collections will rise.

Tax breaks should not only be available for the wealthy and politically connected. They should be available to all individuals who wish to develop their properties. Racine could use the development. We can call them MicroTIFs.

Legacy of Suicide

I was in City Hall yesterday to get a permit for street storage of a dumpster, as I will shortly begin a project in my downtown building.

Racine has a unique law concerning those dumpsters. The dumpsters must have a certain kind of reflective material on them. Additionally, permit holders like me must surround the dumpster with orange construction cones also adorned with reflective material.

A few years ago, two people died in separate incidents as their vehicles smashed into dumsters at very high speeds. The whispers around town were that these were suicides, but the political pressure to "do something" about the dumpsters was undoubtedly intense.

So now we have a mildly annoying law. But we can say that we have done something about the dangers of dark dumpsters. And we can remain comfortably in denial about the problem of suicide.

Good Government in Racine

I am not sure that there should even be a building department in Racine. But there is one and they have the power, not you. A few individuals have the power to seriously damage economic development in Racine, because a stringent interpretation of building codes could make virtually any project cost prohibitive.

But my experience has thus far been positive. The city building inspectors are demonstrating a sensible flexibility when it comes to my project. The specifics would likely bore you, so suffice it to say that they are working with me without compromising my safety or anyone elses.

As a regular government critic, I think I should give them credit when they deserve it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Numbers To Ponder

Caledonia pays roughly $13 million in local property taxes towards Racine Unified. Local property taxes account for about 27% of Unified's revenue. So if you factor in state and federal taxes, Caledonia residents pay about $48 million for Unified. According to the 2000 census, Caledonia had 23,614 residents. Of those, 4530 were between the ages of 5 and 17. According to official estimates, Caledonia has had a population increase of about 5%. At present, about 4,750 Caledonia children are eligible to attend RUSD schools. If all of these students attended Unified, Caledonia will have paid about $2,736 per child in local property taxes, and $10,123 in total taxes per student. Now we know that all of Caledonia's RUSD eligible students do not attend Unified. By some credible estimates, only 40% of these students are attending RUSD schools. If that estimate is accurate, then Caledonia taxpayers are paying about $6,840 in local taxes, and $25,307 in total taxes (local, state, federal) per student attending Unified.

Now Racine. Racine pays roughly$23 million in local property taxes for RUSD and about $85 million in all taxes going towards Unified. According to the 2000 census, Racine had a population of 81,855, of which 15,618 were between the ages of 5 and 17. Estimates are that Racine's population has decreased by about 2%. At present, about 15,300 children are RUSD eligible. If all those students attend RUSD schools, the local property tax portion would be about $1,503 per student. Total taxes per student would be about $5,561. I don't have any estimates as to the percentages of Racine children who attend Unified. I am still waiting, two weeks and counting, for Unified to tell me how many children from Racine and Caledonia are enrolled in Unified schools. More to come.

Voter Free Choice Act

It is 2008, Hillary vs. Guliani for president. This election will be different because of the passage of the Voter Free Choice Act.

In October, you get a knock on the door from campaign workers for one of the candidates. They tell you why their candidate should get your vote. They ask you to vote right then and there, handing you a ballot for your signature. You indicate that you remain undecided and that you prefer to cast your ballot in secret. The campaigners laugh and tell you that secret ballots are a thing of the past, and then they explain the new law. Still, you don't really want to vote for this particular candidate, and you tell them so.

The campaign workers are getting impatient. They are paid to get votes. They offer you $50 to sign now. They get $100 cash per vote, so they have some cash to spare. Disgusted, you ask them to leave. Before leaving, they wonder aloud how much it would cost to replace your picture window. "More than $50, I'll bet" says one campaign worker. "We will be back next week. Be prepared to sign."

Today the House of Representatives votes on the Employee Free Choice Act which does away with secret ballots for union representation. The measure is expected to get a lot of support from Democrats and some from Republicans. Scary. Thankfully, George Bush will veto it if it comes to his desk.