The Wisconsin State Journal got it wrong in its print editions Friday morning. "RTA board agrees to binding referendum," reads the newspaper headline. Except the resolution passed by the RTA at its first meeting late Thursday afternoon is not binding, as the State Journal's on-line version seems to acknowledge.
Tom Wilson, the mover of the resolution, made that point himself. So did Dick Wagner, elected chairman of the nine-member RTA.
"We do not have the authority to have a binding referendum," Wilson said. "The concern is with adding that language that we might send a message that we don't want to send, that we actually can do that." Wilson is the appointee of the cities and villages other than Madison, Fitchburg, Middleton, and Sun Prairie, which have their own appointees.
Wagner noted that the governor vetoed out of the legislation enabling an RTA the language requiring a binding referendum.
"All we can commit to is to hold a referendum," added Mark Optiz, the Middleton appointee and a former colleague of mine on the County Board, who was elected veep of the Dane County Regional Transit Authority.
I got the impression that a referendum is perhaps two years in the future.
At best the resolution, passed 9-0, says they'll try real hard to follow the wishes of the voters as expressed in a referendum. Despite encouragement from many speakers on both sides of the RTA divide -- from Bill Richardson to Oregon's Hans Noeldner (who wore a "Leave Your CAR(ES) at Home" t-shirt) -- the RTA board declined to set a specific date for the referendum. Here is its exact wording:
Be It Resolved that the Dane County Regional Transit Authority Board of Directors will not vote to establish a sales tax without the passage of a referendum providing for that sales tax and which also includes a plan for transit. The referendum shall be held at a future regularly scheduled election for the Regional Transit Authority Area.
At least they are pledging to hold it during an regularly scheduled election when turnout could be significant. I raise this question: will the RTA board work on transit for two years only to have the voters turn it down? If so, will the RTA board commit to its non-binding pledge having wasted two years?
Saw Brenda Konkel at the meeting. I think she gave me a little wink. What a cut-up!
Garvey says no to the gravy
Was on Wisconsin Public Radio's Week in Review program this Friday morning with Ed Garvey, D-Teachers Union. (Give a listen. It's Program 100305C.) Garvey cheered Wisconsin's failure to get any of the federal government's education gravy. The feds turned down the state's application for $254 million in "Race to the Top" education reform money. That's how committed Genial Ed is to the status quo.
Question: when will a liberal turn down tax dollars?
Answer: when it threatens the most entrenched of special interests -- the teachers union.
I've said it before: students may fail but teachers never do.
Consider that the graduation rate in Milwaukee is 45 percent -- lower than 94 of the 100 largest school districts in the country. Lower even than New Orleans and Chicago.
Now the MacIver Institute reports that the average annual compensation for a teacher in the Milwaukee Public School system exceeds $100,000. No wonder they don't want the apple cart upset!
State Rep. Brett Davis, a candidate for lieutenant governor, points out:
When reforms were needed to become eligible, Democrats passed watered- down bills with no teeth. In particular, SB 372 removed the prohibition from using test scores in teacher evaluations, but WEAC added provisions that will not allow the data to be used to discipline or fire a teacher.
Democrats were far more concerned with bowing to WEAC than passing much-needed reforms that would help the children of Wisconsin. Today, we found out that those actions have consequences. WEAC spent more money than any other organization in Wisconsin lobbying legislators and Governor Doyle in 2009. The Race to the Top results should surprise nobody.
I noted that last point in Monday's blog: Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) easily outspent all other lobbyists, including the much-reviled representatives of Wisconsin's large employers.
I'll reprint it here:
WEAC spent $1.5 million on lobbying last year - nearly twice as much as the second biggest spender, the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, who are often accused of wielding undue influence in government by Wisconsin's progressive bloggers, only spent about one third of WEAC's total. The result of this effort, according to the State Journal,
"...helps explain why the teachers got precisely what they wanted from the Democratic-run Legislature and governor's office in the last state budget: repeal of state limits on teacher compensation."
Instead of reform, Garvey offered the same old liberal pabulum -- "cure" poverty and throw more money at the teachers' union. I responded that the Great Society of the 1960s failed to do that. Want an anti-poverty program? Go to school. Learn to read and write. Do your figures. Learn the master subject that unlocks all doors: Discipline.
Among those states that did get federal education reform grants was Rhode Island, where the superintendent of one school district fired the entire staff of a failing high school.
"This administration is looking for states that are willing to seriously challenge the status quo," said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. "Wisconsin didn't even come close."
Liam Goldrick, director of policy of the New Teacher Center and a former education adviser to Doyle, said Wisconsin's application was likely hurt because of the state's weak reform history and a persistently large gap in achievement between black and white students. The state also has not been as aggressive in trying to improve teacher quality as have other states, he said.
Which is, of course, good news to Ed Garvey and his friends in the teachers union.
I heard we're getting two feet of snow. (Thanks, Charlie)