Wisconsin Property Taxpayers, Inc.
Property Taxpayers United for Fairness and Reform Since 1985
News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
We hope you had a chance to relax this weekend, and to enjoy the sunny and warm weather seen across much of the state.
This week, we'll bring you last week's survey results on broadband expansion, share the make-up of the state's new elections and ethics commissions, and share the latest on high capacity wells, and more.
We hope you find this week's Capitol Report to be interesting and informative, and as always, if you have something you would like to see featured in a future edition, please reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best for a great week ahead,
Replacing GAB, new elections and ethics commissions begin work
A lottery system chose the new partisan elections and ethics commissions to begin under Democratic oversight, picking former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager to lead the ethics side for two years, before flipping to GOP control. Katie McCallum, the current secretary of the state GOP will currently serve as vice-chair.
The other Republicans on the commission are former State Rep. Pat Strachota, and Judge Mac Davis. The other Democrats are Judge Robert Kinney and attorney David Halbrooks.
The elections commission is made up of Democrats Mark Thomsen, an attorney from Brookfield who will chair the elections commission for two years, Ann Jacobs, an election inspector for the Town of Burlington, who will serve as secretary, and Julie Glancey, who served in the past as Sheboygan County Clerk.
The Republicans on the elections commission are Steve King, a committeeman for the RNC, and Don Millis, an attorney who served as chairman of the Wisconsin Elections Board, prior to the implementation of the GAB.
Both commission have chosen former GAB employees as their administrators. Brian Bell will serve as administrator for the ethics side, and Mike Haas will serve as administrator for the elections side.
Rural broadband and your responses
Last week, Governor Walker unveiled the new Broadband Forward! program, which helps streamline and ease permitting and regulations for rural municipalities wishing to install broadband in their communities.
Wisconsin Chief Information Office David Cagigal recently spoke to a group in Ellsworth about broadband, and seemed to understand the growing frustration among residents.
Clearly, one of the largest issues is service providers' willingness to connect small population areas, as the cost for connecting just one home can run thousands of dollars. Nevertheless, Cagigal said that the state is working closely with providers such as Frontier, AT&T, and CenturyLink to identify areas with the highest demand.
Another way to look at it is the substantial loss of property value where there is no broadband access. Michael Kahlow, a Pierce County Board Supervisor said it can reduce property value by $10,000 or more.
As we do every week, we wanted to get your thoughts on this issue.
First, we asked if you have high speed internet/broadband in your area...
About 78 percent of respondents have high speed internet, 22 percent are without.That's actually a better percentage than we were expecting, given the media attention around the lack of broadband access in the state.
Who are your providers? A lot of the usual suspects. Time Warner Cable/Charter, TDS, AT&T, Comcast, Frontier, and CenturyLink. There were a few of which we'd never heard before...Excel.net? Centurytel?
"Dumb Question: Is DSL high speed internet?"
Not a dumb question at all. The answer is yes! You have high speed internet, although that term can be relatively subjective, since it seems like everybody wants their internet to be faster.
So, we know how useful, and almost essential, high speed internet can be in the home. Especially with the mass proliferation of Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, and the rest...but is it important to the economy?
It looks like respondents spoke loud and clear on this one. 96 percent said yes.
"Everything has or is going to the internet, if feasible."
"All of my marketing and communication is done via the internet."
"The world is so connected now. And very mobile. We all need to stay in touch."
"Being connected is big for the farming community."
Our next question was, do you use the internet for work?
Almost 90 percent of respondents use the internet for work. About 10 percent do not. I think for most of us, these days, it would be hard to imagine a work place without the internet. But could you actually do your job without it?
"Yes, but it sure is a lot easier with it."
"Small businesses, especially in rural areas, need access to the internet to comply with State and Fed Tax requirements."
"Yes, but at a great cost."
"Maybe, but it would slow things considerably."
It sounds like broadband is pretty critical for keeping things moving quickly and efficiently.
What do you think of the state's focus on expanding broadband?
About 60 percent think its a great idea, and some think it's a waste of resources.
"It's important, but let's fix roads first please."
"Not a function of government."
"It is a great idea. Quit upgrading Madison/Milwaukee. Get to towns with less than 2500 people, north of HWY 10 or HWY 29, where the infrastructure is sorely needed."
"Why do rural areas always benefit last?"
AND WPT'S PERSONAL FAVORITE: "Many days, it is very frustrating to watch it tick slowly in a circle." That's the most polite way of saying "slow internet makes me want to throw my computer at the wall" that we have ever heard. Which days is it NOT frustrating?
Finally, for fun: Packers start practice in a couple of weeks. Are you ready for the green and gold?!
56 percent are ready for some football! 32 percent are still enjoying their summer, and 12 percent aren't fans of the Green Bay Packers....
And if you wanted to share, we asked what the most memorable sporting event you have ever attended...
"Being in the stands watching Wayne Gretzky break Gord Howe's NHL scoring record!"
"When our little town's football team made it to State."
"Packers beat LA Rams @ County Stadium @ Time of Vince & Travis Williams. Brr it was COLD!"
Lawmakers will revisit high capacity well issue
Dried bed of Little Plover River
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest topics in Wisconsin right now is high capacity wells. Many groups have been pushing for reforms, and would like to see the state tackle the declining water levels, as well as contamination, and other related issues.
Some of the wells, which can draw over 100,000 gallons of water per day, are located in the Central Sands region of the state- Wood, Adams, Waupaca, Marathon, Waushara, Portage Counties. The region has seen a large uptick in the number of high cap wells since 1950, now reaching more than 2,300 in that region alone.
A recent study showed that the reason the Little Plover River runs completely dry at times is "inextricably linked to groundwater systems and vulnerable to impacts from nearby pumping" and that these pumping operations "have altered the natural groundwater flow pattern."
In an interview with WPT earlier this year, Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) explained a bill that he introduced in the legislature that would change how the state regulates and permits these types of wells. The bill died in committee, but it would have required the state DNR to implement procedures for determining minimum rate flows of streams and lake water levels to avoid harm. It would have also created zones that designate certain areas as sensitive resource areas, and grant the DNR higher authority in those regions to help fix problems that might arise.
While that bill did not make it through the entire legislature, let alone receive the governor's signature, the lawmaker said he intends to reintroduce the bill in the coming legislative session.
In his interview with WPT, he outlined the delicate balance that must be struck between industries, tourism, and natural resources. It was those interests that prevented the bill from making it any farther than the natural resources committee. He recently told the Marshfield News Herald, "regulation as a one-size-fits-all doesn't work. We can do a lot better watershed by watershed."
Krug's Democratic colleague directly to the north, Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point), also said she is exploring legislation that would grant the DNR more defined authority wen considering the impacts of high cap wells on water systems.
Recently, Attorney General Brad Schimel issued an opinion which stated that a 2011 law enacted by the legislature effectively prohibits the DNR from considering cumulative impacts of high cap wells because the Legislature has not explicitly granted the DNR that authority.
WEEKLY SURVEY. SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS.
Lawmakers will revisit the issue of high capacity wells in the upcoming legislative session. What are your thoughts?
Five questions, less than one minute, all answers are anonymous.
From CWD to school funding, Democratic lawmaker Chris Danou in touch with district needs
In a jam-packed sit-down with Representative Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau) last week, the four term lawmaker shared with WPT many of the issues facing his western Wisconsin district, why he got into public service, and his plans for the upcoming session.
Like most who are called to serve their communities, Rep. Danou immediately started our talk by saying, "I became inspired to run for elected office [in 2008] because I was concerned about the direction of my community and state." In addition to being an avid sportsman and family man, the lawmaker also holds a Bachelor's degree from UW-Madison, and a Masters in Wildlife Biology from UW-Stevens Point. When he's not spending time with his family, watching his sons play la crosse, or running with his dog, he's "reading as many daily, weekly, and monthly publicans that I can get my hands on."
With ongoing coverage of Wisconsin's massive rise in Chronic Wasting Disease, you may have heard Rep. Danou's name quite a few times. He and another Assembly colleague were the first to step to the plate to address the problem. And in a bipartisan move, Danou, also a member of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage, called on Governor Walker and the DNR first for help in curbing this problem. 9.4% of the deer tested in Wisconsin last year were infected with CWD- the highest number since the disease was discovered. The plan calls for double-fencing captive deer farms, analyzing other states' practices, and performing herd thinning around new infected sites. Governor Walker's office said if experts agree, those practices will be included in the state's approach.
We moved on to other issues facing the 92nd Assembly District, and I asked Rep. Danou to share the biggest issue facing his district. Not surprisingly, "school funding," he said. "Rural school districts have a difficult time getting necessary resources from Madison due to the current school funding formula. I firmly believe every child should have access to a quality education no matter where they live and their parents choose to raise them." He added that this is the biggest issue facing the entire state. "[Education] impacts each industry in our local, regional, and statewide economy...by making important and necessary advances in farming and other industries, but it also trains people for their career and prepares people for the future."
He also touched on farming, and like WPT, Rep. Danou knows that young people are critical to the success of farming in Wisconsin. "We need to make sure young people know farming is a very important job that brings one great pride and allows a person to make a good and honest living." This isn't just talk- he backs up this belief with action. Danou was the lead cosponsor on Assembly Bill 913, which would assist young farmers in paying off their student loans if they operate a farm in Wisconsin for a minimum number of years. WPT's agenda includes similar legislation that would create an incentive for young people to enter farming, and create incentive for nearing-retirement-age farmers to sell their land to farmers. "Oftentimes people interested in farming are deterred from pursuing a career in agriculture due to initial high capital costs. I think we need to find ways to lower this initial burden so that more people who are interested in farming can afford the things they need to get their operation going."
We wrapped up, as always by talking about what he felt was his biggest accomplishment during the past legislative session, and what his plans are moving into next year. "It's no secret that Wisconsin's roads are in poor condition, he said. Danou is also a member of the Assembly Committee on Transportation. "The state of our roads is not only bad for commerce and the flow of capital, but it's also a burden and cost to motorists and creates safety hazards for those on the road. More needs to be done to fund our roads. It's up to members of the legislature on both sides of the aisle next session to craft policy that responsibly finds a way to adequately finance and maintain our transportation infrastructure."
"And your biggest accomplishment," I asked.
"I was particularly proud of the work my colleagues and I did to be the voice of another view of government for the people in our community and across Wisconsin. There is another side with good ideas to help kick start economic growth, create jobs, fund public education, repair and expand our infrastructure, respect our natural resources, protect our sporting heritage, and be more accountable to all taxpayers."
128 school districts to receive high cost transportation aid from state
A school district is eligible for high cost transportation aid if their transportation costs exceed 150 percent of the statewide average cost per member, which was roughly $418 per student this year. Another requirement is that there must be 50 students or fewer per square mile in the school district.
This year, the Department of Public Instruction will distribute $7.5 million in aide to districts with above-average student transportation costs.
The program was approved in the 2013-2015 state budget as a way to reduce disproportionately high transportation expenses in some, mostly rural, school districts. The 2015-2017 budget increased the aid allocation from $5 million to $7.5 million, and added a sparsity factor to target the aid to districts experiencing the greatest need for state support in transporting students.
WEDC's short-lived gag order on its board members
Last week, WEDC introduced a proposal that would have prohibited its board members from answering reporters' questions, and limited information that it released to the public.
Remember, this is the same agency that is supposed to be creating jobs for the public.
Once reporters learned of this proposal, it was quickly removed from the meeting agenda by Mark Hogan, the CEO of the troubled jobs agency.
Under the proposal, if a board member shared information not covered by the open records law with anyone other than agency officials, they could have faced disciplinary actions and an internal investigation.
The policy also would have barred members from speaking to the press, and requiring them to pass questions on to the agency spokesperson.
Republican State Representative, and Majority Leader, Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) called the proposal a "bad idea" and added "We need transparency at WEDC more than ever. The public deserves it."