Republican Brewhaha on Wisconsin Highway Funding Symptomatic of Larger Problem

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposed borrowing plan for highway construction the next two years has finally hit the skids! GOP lawmakers said as much in a letter to the governor yesterday. Not only is the governor’s proposed $1.3 billion transportation borrowing plan too high, said the 33 Assembly Republicans who signed the letter, but also any reduction to $800 million must include reductions in the massive Milwaukee area freeway projects already under construction.

The Republicans lawmakers, who are in the majority in both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature, are negotiating among themselves over the reduction in bonding to $800 million according to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website Monday.

Allthingsenvironmental emailed the Republican dominated Joint Finance way last March after the governor’s proposed biennial budget for 2015-17 hit the streets sending them the following message:

Bad things can happen to good people. It happens all the time, and has occurred all throughout history. So when bad things, or threats, are predicted to occur or seem reasonably likely to occur, it’s best for one to take action, and involve others in removing the oncoming threat, before it gets realized and significant damage to life and our environment occurs.
Governor Walker’s biennial budget plan for Wisconsin for the next two years contains numerous threats to the people of Wisconsin and the state of Wisconsin’s natural resources. Some of those threats could have devastating and harmful impacts if they are allowed to occur without any attempts to prevent or ameliorate them.
Governor Walker’s budget plan as written will cause a great deal of harm for many thousands of Wisconsin’s people and their families. Some people who have worked their entire life at University of Wisconsin or UW-extension will likely lose their jobs, and the public who those people serve will lose out as well. Wisconsin’s elderly and disabled population, and families having children enrolled in Wisconsin’s excellent public school system will also suffer loses. Many hard working and dedicated school teachers and educational assistants serving special needs children will be without a job next fall if this budget is not revamped.
The governor’s budget also hurts those who watch over and protect our precious natural resources, both now and in the coming years, by cutting positions and land stewardship funds.
But really the worst thing about the governor’s budget is not what’s in it but rather what’s NOT IN IT BUT SHOULD IN IT. For example, despite Wisconsin’s aging population and increasing number of people who prefer not to drive, or who can’t drive because of the high cost of owning, maintaining and driving an automobile, the Walker budget proposes nothing new to help with mobility in the state, transit in particular. Rather, it borrows hundreds of millions of dollars to expand an already too large highway system at great environmental harm to the state, and for no good reason.
Numerous observations demonstrate that the climate of the Great Lakes Region, including Wisconsin’s climate, is changing. Average temperatures are getting warmer and extreme heat events are occurring more frequently. Total precipitation is increasing and heavy precipitation events are becoming more common. Winters are getting shorter and the duration of lake ice cover is decreasing over time. As a state, we should already be doing as much as we can to drastically cut back on our burning of fossil fuels but we seem to be doing almost the opposite. This tragedy grows in magnitude the longer it takes for our country and other countries to wean themselves off burning fossil fuels. There are many other unintended consequences of living in a fossil fuel burning dependent society.
But ironically, rather than then increasing substantially the funding of transit systems and the funding of positive financial incentive programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and encourage walking and use of nonmotorized travel by state residents and businesses, the governor’s budget promotes more highway expansion.  Instead, the state should reward those who drive less (miles), don’t fly, and minimizing their use of fossil fuel derived energy over the year. Use the money that Governor Walker’s budget borrows to fund a bigger highway system and a big new professional basketball arena instead – expenditures that not only subject state taxpayer to great financial risks but also promote adding millions more tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere including promoting jet airplanes flying of visiting teams and fans to the games.
Wisconsin Public Radio (part of state’s UW-extension) plans vacationing trips to Scotland and Australia, trips that not only release hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere but also give nothing back to the state’s own tourism businesses.
Governor Walker’s budgets include more trade promotions with foreign countries despite the fact that shipping products and working with foreign business interests similarly add millions and millions more tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
My plan would increase Wisconsin families’ and individuals’ annual income for polluting less and reducing the global warming threat, rather than adding to it.
Governor Walker’s plan is to require a monthly drug test of food share (too low to begin with) recipients and proof of their having worked at least 80 hours at a place of employment before their receiving the meager food share benefits. It would do nothing to curb the rising income and employment inequalities and racial disparities in the state. The numbers of families and children living in poverty already will not be helped by Governor Walker’s budget. It is a fact that children of families living in poverty start their lives with a handicap because of many reason but the worst is that they do not receive adequate nutrition before and after they enter their school years. The governor’s budget insufficiently funds Wisconsin public schools and the families that live in poverty are disadvantaged in those schools from day one. Yet the governor’s budget does nothing to make up for previous cuts to public schools and add more financial stress for them by requiring them to pay vouchers for children attending private schools.
The budget should also refund the planned parenthood clinics the state had before Scott Walker took office. Certainly we ought not be adding to our human population pressures on the environment if we don’t have to.
Thank for the opportunity to submit my comments on the proposed state budget. For addition background on my concerns expressed here, please visit my blog at: www.allthingsenvironmental.com.

So it’s not just the governor’s highway plan part of the 2-year budget that’s unsustainable. It’s virtually everything Scott Walker has done as governor, starting January 2010 with his Act 10 that destroyed collective bargaining in public employee unions, having appeared out of the blue.

Meanwhile, as probable presidential candidate Scot Walker heads his way to yet another Wisconsin taxpayer funded speaking engagement, this time in California, the brewhaha simmering among his fellow Republicans is beginning to reach the boiling point. One has to wonder how many frequent flyer miles the governor and his security people have racked up over the past 5 years? A lot? Yes, but undoubtedly not even close to the millions of tons of greenhouse gases his jets, autos and motorcycles have emitted to the atmosphere for the next generation to be burdened with.

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About Mike Neuman

Environmentalist; Father; Senior Citizen; Husband, School Crossing Guard; Green Bay Packer Fan; Wisconsin Badger Fan; Animal Lover; Humanitarian

2 responses to “Republican Brewhaha on Wisconsin Highway Funding Symptomatic of Larger Problem”

  1. La Mer says :

    Solidarity, brother! I’m with you and second your accurate revelations about the racism and disastrous foolhardiness behind the governor’s budget. (I also apologize for monopolizing the comments section of your astounding blog; this “comment” need not be published, but I’d like you to read it, if you would.)

    Here’s some of my “rant” about jobs and environmental protection, which I sent around to DNR, GLITC, the governor and US senators, with little response, yet. Obviously it all depends on the people joining in action now. So, here goes:

    “The deadly infestation of Ash trees is a third devastating loss of urban trees in recent history in America; previous historic losses of tree species due to infestations included Dutch Elm Disease (DED) from a fungal infestation, and Chestnut Blight. “From 1958 to 1975, Madison lost 18,500 trees to DED [and in 2007] DED was the reason city forestry crews [removed] a majestic 140 year old American Elm located on the 500 block of W. Gorham Street in Madison.”

    http://www.cityofmadison.com/news/madison-to-lose-140-year-old-american-elm-tree-to-dutch-elm-disease

    Private landowners in Wisconsin were advised by the DNR that they could choose to use pesticides or have the Ash trees infected with Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) larvae — removed. But continued injections of chemicals into the soil near the trees’ roots and directly into the trees ultimately weakens the tree and only temporarily halts the EAB. The parasitic wasps that prey on EAB and its larvae cannot possibly eradicate all the EAB and remaining beetles continue to lay eggs. Larvae may live for one or two years after developing from eggs laid on the tree’s outer bark and continue to burrow into the Ash trees. Obviously, monitoring of wasps or using pesticides in the forest is only a “management” option in urban areas, but regardless, everywhere, the EAB infestation ultimately kills the trees.

    And pesticides have negative physiological effects on humans and other animals, as Rachel Carson described in her famous exposé “Silent Spring,” published in 1962. Supporting Carson’s revelations about pesticide dangers, the Bio-Control Research section of the City of Madison’s September 2012 EAB plan on pp. 20-21, contained the following hopeful paragraph:

    “The bio-control research on…parasitic wasps…looks very promising and there is a good chance that in the next five years they could become a viable option to manage EAB infestations. Success in this field could be a tremendous boost for controlling EAB. This development makes protecting larger ash trees early on in an infestation even more important. Larger ash trees can be protected by the parasitoids at that time and chemical controls can be reduced or eliminated entirely.”

    http://www.cityofmadison.com/parks/services/forestry/pests/EAB/documents/2012SeptemberEABPlan.pdf .

    The State Forester Comments on the Governor’s Budget:

    Recently, Wisconsin’s Chief State Forester and DNR Division of Forestry Administrator Paul DeLong wrote:

    ‘One provision in the [Governor’s proposed] budget directs the department to develop a plan to move the Division of Forestry headquarters to a northern Wisconsin location, including a description of the costs of relocation, a timeline for implementation, and a list of location options. The plan would be submitted by the department for consideration by the Governor for inclusion in the FY’17-19 budget.’ (See the link, below, for DeLong’s list of additional concerns regarding the proposed budget.)

    http://fyi.uwex.edu/notcountingtrees/2015/02/09/governors-budget-and-implications-for-dnr-forestry/

    Since most of the state’s remaining forests are in the northern counties and the DNR may be required to move its main office to the northwoods, local citizens could be hired to help steward and protect one of our state’s most valuable resources — our forests. Healthy forests sequester carbon which is a vitally important contribution to the long term survival of our Great Lakes ecosystem. Changes in temperature, rain and snowfall and the continuing loss of Ash trees (which, over time, will be replaced by other trees and bushes) are causing inevitable changes in the prevalent species of trees and in the overall health of Wisconsin’s forests. The more people learn about the forest ecosystem, the better prepared we will be to contribute to good management practices that respond to changes in this valuable, possibly vulnerable, natural resource — our northwoods forests — and that will also protect the wild animal inhabitants of the northwoods.

    Stewardship of the Northwoods:

    Prior mistakes in animal management cannot be thought of as inconsequential, nor can human activity that stresses already weakened wild animal populations be permitted. Stressors include recently “allowed” barbaric hunting methods such as cable neck and leg traps and dog packs. These laws must be rescinded. Dog packs allowed to run down and torture trapped prey animals throughout the year must be reported and the owners prosecuted.

    Insufficient protection against invasive, non-native animal and plant species is still a serious threat to native species, from trees to flora and fauna in rivers and lakes. We are part of the natural environment and careless human activity (e.g., ignorance of or refusal to comply with safety techniques for controlling invasive species) is a failure of stewardship. Stewardship of our forest and freshwater resources — of all the natural resources of Wisconsin — is absolutely fundamental to the development of meaningful local economies that will benefit future generations everywhere in Wisconsin.

    Wildlife management programs must be cost effective and obtain positive results. For example, last year governor Walker’s budget included funds to help the struggling walleye:

    ‘DNR fisheries increased production of walleye fingerlings from 40,000 to 400,000 last year, and are expected to produce nearly 700,000 per year by 2016; $8.2 million [was allocated] to the Department of Natural Resources for infrastructure improvements and $1.3 million each year for operating costs to expand production at state fish hatcheries;

    $2 million for municipal, tribal, and private aquaculture facilities to improve infrastructure and enhance ability to stock additional large fingerling walleye in Wisconsin’s waters;

    $500,000 in fiscal year 2014-15 to purchase large fingerling walleye from private fish farms (emphasis mine) and

    $250,000 to expand the Summer Tribal Youth Program.’

    ( http://walker.wi.gov/newsroom/press-release/wisconsin-walleye-initiative-governor-scott-walker-attends-groundbreaking#sthash.L3lByr4g.dpuf )

    With the help of tribal natural resource officers, the DNR has developed a better plan this year involving the release of older fingerlings, which are larger and may actually survive to maturity.

    Forest sustainability:

    The northwoods requires cooperation among all people living here if we are to become effective stewards of our forest resources. See, below, the 2014 County Forests Audit report (which provides an overview only); the 2014 DNR Ash report and the 2014 Forest Health report, which focuses on destructive pest issues adversely affecting many species of forest trees in Wisconsin. These reports suggest (to me) that the DNR’s work to protect forests and other environmental resources would definitely benefit from the help of a citizen conservation corps and a well-supported team of DNR foresters and other scientists.

    http://www.sfiprogram.org/audit-reports/wisconsin-dnr-county-forest-program-august-2014/

    http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestBusinesses/documents/AshReport.pdf

    http://www.wistatedocuments.org/cdm/pageflip/collection/p267601coll4/id/8173/type/singleitem/pftype/pdf .

    The great natural resources of Wisconsin are either protected or not. See the link below, for a news article describing one neighborhood lake that is dying — apparently as a result of a series of past errors that have not yet been corrected:

    http://www.lakelandtimes.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=11892&SectionID=9&SubSectionID=9&S=1

    Cooperative Economy:

    Seasonal tourism, forest timber harvesting and hunting and fishing alone are not going to protect the natural resources of the northwoods for future generations or provide sustainable livelihoods for the people who live here. Future programs focusing on economic recovery must prioritize environmental protection, e.g., setting limits on the use of motorized recreational vehicles in forests; not leasing resources or selling land and water to developers, extractive industries or oil pipeline companies; refusing to allow more oil/chemical/metal or sand mining to pollute and permanently degrade the environment; banning CAFO’s and limiting clear-cut harvests in the northwoods (especially if it is just for the purpose of adding or widening paved roads).

    Returning environmental stewardship to its proper place at the forefront of government activities would also lead the way for local entrepreneurs to create more local “green” jobs. This is possible and we will figure it out.

    We non-Native American residents of the Wisconsin northwoods can cooperate with indigenous communities by acknowledging tribal hunting, gathering and fishing rights and by supporting increased funding for tribal natural resource programs. We will all enjoy the recovery of the walleye, wolves, deer, elk and crane. By participating with indigenous communities in developing sustainable businesses and becoming multi-generational stewards of Wisconsin and the valuable environment of the Great Lakes region will thrive.

    (Note: the 11 Sovereign Native Nations are already doing this: http://wtcac.org/files/7513/8064/2418/Stewardship_Report_2013.pdf )

    I have benefited from medicines created by Oneida healers. Most people can enjoy local foods like maple syrup, eggs, kraut, goat cheese, greens and honey. Wider, better organized statewide support for local family farmers, entrepreneurs, craftspeople and artists who produce artwork and grow plants or raise animals humanely and sustainably will enhance our economy now and will benefit future generations.

    Strong economies can support community gardens and farmers markets. These provide greater food security for the community while supporting local artisanal cheesemakers, cooks and bakers, honeybee keepers, mushroom farmers, kraut fermenters. Organic farmers — and anyone willing to try new, smaller-farm techniques — may want to attempt extending their growing season using hoop garden plantings and heated greenhouses. Of course, solar and other renewable energy systems will ultimately have to replace centralized, coal and other fossil fuel or nuclear power-based systems. And everywhere throughout the state citizens must demand full funding of habitat restoration wherever the natural environment has been damaged by mining, pipelines, coal trains or other toxic pollution or industrial destruction — paid for by the parties guilty of the crime. Environmental destruction should have serious legal consequences.

    Finally, it is not just northwoods communities that are disadvantaged by disparities in population or government support for economic development; the entire state is struggling to survive the current economic plan that has caused Wisconsin to be ranked last among all fifty states in job creation. “Open for business” is a losing slogan, as evidenced by the failure of businesses receiving grant and loan subsidies or quid-pro-quo tax credits to create any new jobs; making campaign contributions is not creating a job or an economy that supports the majority of the people of Wisconsin. Who can ignore the fact that Wisconsinites are currently experiencing an unprecedented, statewide environmental and fiscal give-away that has so far brought us, in return for their “efforts”, nothing but the threatened loss of everything we love?

    Note: July 8, 2015 prepoposal deadline for Vilsack’s new program:

    http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/wi/programs/farmbill/rcpp/

    Please feel free to email me if you’d like.
    Thanks.

  2. Hixton Grit says :

    Excellent post!!

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