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Republican Brewhaha on Wisconsin Highway Funding Symptomatic of Larger Problem


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.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Article that received most views: “Homeless Children in the United States” (Nov. 2014)

Click here to see the complete report.

Earth a Lucky Fluke?


Is the Earth one of many habitable planets in the universe, or are human beings alone, the product of a lucky fluke? Author of “Lucky Planet: Why Earth is Exceptional–and What That Means for Life in the Universe”, David Waltham says it’s more likely the latter, thanks to our planet’s unusually stable climate and early development of life.

But whether Earth’s climate can still said to be “stable” is now, unfortunately, open to question. We humans have have relied far too extensively on fossil fuel burning – especially coal, oil (gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, propane, fuel oil) and natural gas (methane), which all emit greenhouse gases to the atmosphere upon combustion, since the onset of the Industrial Revolution.  What Earth needs now is another kind of revolution, a peaceful revolution, but where humans use their own physical power and the energy of the Sun and the wind and rid themselves from the over-dependence on burning fossil fuels.  Read about a plan to do just that right here and then sign the petition to our elected governmental officials demanding they undertake the necessary changes to make this happen before its too late! Thank you.

Answer “No” to Transportation Amendment on November 4th Ballot


Wisconsin law presently requires that specific revenue streams, such as gasoline and diesel fuel taxes and license fees collected from motor vehicle owners, be deposited into the transportation fund; however, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has recognized that the Wisconsin Legislature may, at times, have greater needs other than transportation, and it is therefore authorized to transfer certain amounts from the Transportation Fund to non-transportation state needs, such as education, health care, and shared revenue.

However, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the highway building industry – which includes such contracting entities as the Wisconsin road and bridge builders (the Transportation Builders Association), sand and gravel suppliers, cement and asphalt production companies, trucking firms, and other businesses financially tied to transportation in Wisconsin, have been very vocal in their criticisms of the previous administration’s use of some transportation generated money for purposes not financially benefiting Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure.

So a Transportation Amendment referendum question was approved for placement on the November 4th ballot which, if the majority of Wisconsin voters answer “yes” (to Question 1 on the ballot), would so amend Wisconsin’s Constitution to mandate that all money generated by transportation taxes in Wisconsin after December 31, 2010 be deposited into the state’s Transportation Fund, and furthermore that no such money be lapsed, further transferred, or used for any program that is not directly administered by the department of transportation, in furtherance of the department’s responsibility for the planning, promotion, and protection of all transportation systems in the state. In short, all transportation collected money could only be used for transportation purposes if the majority of people voting on November 4th answer “yes” to Referendum Question #1.

If the majority of Wisconsin voters on November 4th answer “no” to amending Wisconsin’s Constitution regarding the Transportation Amendment, tax money from transportation in Wisconsin would still be deposited in the Transportation Fund and used for transportation; however, certain amounts approved by the Legislature for use in other state programs or the state budget other than for transportation projects would be permissible. The Wisconsin Constitution would not therefore be amended to provide for the exclusive use of motor vehicle fuel taxes and annual vehicle registration fees by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for road and bridge expansion, reconstruction, and rehabilitation programs.

Wisconsin Senator Fred Risser recommends voters answer “no” to the Transportation Fund Constitutional Amendment, saying “it serves no useful purpose to submit to the highway lobby and guarantee them a constitutionally protected fund that can never be touched even in the case of economic crisis or statewide emergency”.

Wisconsin’s highway and bridge system and its use, and other state and federal highway systems and their use, have already exceeded the level of environmental and fiscal sustainability. In addition to the billions of dollars of state and federal money that has been collected and awarded to various highway and bridge contractor from Transportation Funds, there have been very real damages inflicted on Wisconsin’s and other state’s natural landscapes, wildlife and wildlife habitat, the climate and the human population. Despite many of these costs being significantly high, they are seldom quantified and simply go unpaid. Most (loss of wildlife habitat, climate change, small particle pollution) are growing more serious over time.

The public health impacts from 60 billion motor vehicle miles being driven annually in the state are growing evermore significant and serious (from climate change, loss of green space, farmland loss, small particle air pollution). Yet we have seen no actions being undertaken or even discussed so far by the Governor Scott Walker administration, the Wisconsin Legislature, or candidate for governor Mary Burke. Action is needed to encourage less fossil fuel burning vehicular travel in the state, to mitigate for many impacts that have already occurred or are still occurring, and to prepare for a climate that will be rapidly changing.

Despite seeing motor vehicle driving in Wisconsin finally leveling off, after decades of growth, the state and federal governments are planning to continue pouring vast sums of money into the construction of new highways and the expansion of old ones. Wisconsin’s governor is leading the way, with Wisconsin the politically powerful road and bridge building industry’s support.

Today’s Wisconsin State Journal newspaper states that Governor Scott Walker, in meeting with the State Journal’s editorial board Monday, said that he is considering replacing the state’s current gasoline tax with a sales tax on gas and alternative vehicle fuel sources “to stabilize long-term transportation funding in the state”. The state currently taxes gasoline, blended gasoline, and diesel fuel for motor vehicle fuel at a flat rate of 31 cents per gallon. The present gasoline tax generates about $1 billion in revenue for the Transportation Fund. The tax on is levied on gasoline suppliers but in turn gets build into the pump price. (The state also taxes liquefied propane gas, compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas but not electricity, although The Journal reports Walker saying “that’s something that needs to be considered”.

Neither Walker nor Democratic challenger for governor Mary Burke have identified any specific plans for addressing the state’s projected $680 million shortfall in the Transportation Fund in the next biennial budget, according to the Wisconsin State Journal report written by Mathew DeFour and Mary Spicuzza and published October 14, 2014. The state will be short $15.3 billion in the Transportation Budget over the next decade according to a state transportation commission reported last year, despite there being fewer annual vehicle miles predicted to be traveled on the state highways in the coming years.

As alluded to previously (above), there is serious and significant concern regarding the continued burning of fossil fuels and the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from motor vehicles travelly 60 billion miles, or 600 billion miles since 2004. The reason is that these gases, in particular carbon dioxide, have already accumulated to record high levels in the atmosphere, and the added accumulation of them in the atmosphere is growing ever more dangerous. Presently, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) has reached record of over 400 parts per millions in the atmosphere, which is 42% above the CO2 concentration level present in the atmosphere before the Industrial Age. We are now witnessing rising sea levels from thermal expansion of water and ice melt over lands on an unprecedented scale.

Roughly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere for each gallon of gasoline burned in a motor vehicle. Even if we assume that all vehicles driven in the state achieved 2013’s record high efficiency of 24.1 miles per gallon, this amounts to roughly 2.5 billion gallons of gasoline being burned on Wisconsin’s highways each year, which translates into 50 billion pounds (25 million tons) of carbon dioxide being emitted from tailpipes each year, or 250 tons over the last decade. Since carbon dioxide has a lifetime exceeding 100 years in the atmosphere, much of this CO2 will still be in the atmosphere by the end of this century, along with CO2 and other greenhouse gases accumulations.

Not only should the state be working harder and faster on reducing it’s GHG emissions – it should not be prohibited from using transportation generated money for this purpose. In fact, there should be a moratorium on adding more capacity (lane) for additional use of motor vehicles on the state’s highway system. This would save the state $3 billion in taxpayer money that is slated for highway expansion now, including work of the I-94 south of Madison project and the addition of two more lanes of Beltline highway in the vicinity of the Verona Road/Beltline interchange in Madison.

As discussed in a previous post on this blog, high motor vehicle traffic areas also generate dangerous levels of small and ultra small particle pollution. It has been reported in numerous that people who live very close to heavy traffic and get exposed to high levels of ultra fine particle pollution have more health problems, including heart and vascular problems. Transportation Funds should be used to minimize and mitigate for these transportation related health costs.

Verona Road/Beltline Expansion: despite the majority of people speaking at a meeting held by DOT in 2003  saying they were opposed to more motor vehicle traffic in the areas of West Madison near the proposed project, DOT proceeded with it plan for the project anyway, as expected.

15. Wisconsin’s Proposed State Budget Needs Major Overhaul

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The Wisconsin State Journal asked its readers for “letters to the editor” on what needed to be fixed, if anything, in Wisconsin’s state budget bill, which will be taken up by the Wisconsin Legislature starting Tuesday, June 18 (tomorrow). Follow was the letter I submitted:

State money for vouchers and tax exemptions for families who already can afford to send their kids to private schools?

A large tax cut which sends much more money back to people in the state’s higher income brackets than to those unfortunate enough to be in the lower income bracket?

No health care that the poor can afford?

Wisconsin at the bottom of the list for renewable energy development, again (under the Gov. Scott Walker administration), yet nothing in the state budget to raise it up the list?

No mention of the words “global warming”, “climate change”, or “reduce greenhouse gases” in the budget bill, despite the reality of human-caused climate change being well evident now to nearly everyone in Wisconsin, and despite the preponderance of scientific studies backing that up?

Yes, I would say Wisconsin’s state budget needs fixing – A WHOLE LOT OF FIXING!