Gov. Walker considers more usurpation of local authority

Facing a frigid forecast, Gov. Scott Walker will consider closing schools  statewide early next week.

“Our top priority in this situation is the safety of Wisconsin’s school  children, and while this has most commonly been an issue for individual  districts to decide, Governor Walker will consider this option and continue to  closely monitor the situation with the appropriate state agencies,” Tom Evenson,  Walker’s spokesman, said in an email on Friday afternoon.

Read more:

It’s unclear if the Wisconsin governor’s office has the authority to make such a  call. The authority to close schools because of inclement weather rests with  individual school districts, according to Wisconsin law.

With a cavalier disdain for the intelligence of local officials, Gov. Walker considers how to take more power away from local officials. First it was teachers and unions, public sector employees and unions. Then it was SB 349 for frac sand mining and later absentee voting. Now the powerful Wizard of Wisconsin seeks to take away local school board authority to determine if it is too cold for students to go to school.

What is wrong with Gov. Walker? He could simply ask for wise decisions by local school authorities and to consider the safety of the children first and foremost. Let’s see what he does this time when faced with choosing power or eschewing power.

WI Legislature: Damn the Citizens! Full Speed Ahead!

It is not enough to take away local control and invest it all in the State of Wisconsin (SOW). Now the WI legislature desires to place limitations on public input and debate about legislation in process.

This is, apparently, Governor Walker’s America: control by the State, influence by lobbyists, and legislation by corporate accord. Damn the Citizens! Full Speed Ahead!

Kathleen Vinehout comments on Changes in Committee Workings Public Input.

I hope she does not mind that I excerpt almost all of what she wrote:

Committees are the doers of the Legislature. The process is designed to be slow and deliberative and to encourage public input. However, speed and secrecy are increasingly being used to limit public involvement and careful legislative deliberation.

Public hearings are one place where people can make an impact on a developing new law. By testifying at a hearing, a person can directly provide input. Those who cannot travel to the Capitol can send emails or letters to members of a committee and request changes in legislation.

In recent years, small but significant changes are taking place in the workings of committees that limit public involvement — changes like shortening the length of notice before a public hearing; providing a public notice of one version of a bill and then offering a complete rewrite shortly before the public hearing; limiting speaking time for those testifying; limiting questions from committee members; allowing “invited testimony only” in a public hearing; or voting on a bill immediately following the public testimony.

All of these actions have been used for decades. But it is the increasing frequency with which they are used that concerns many of my constituents.

Committee chairs have extraordinary power. They set rules by which public hearings are held. They decide whether and when to hold a hearing, whether the hearing receives enough public notice for widespread citizen involvement, and who, if any, invited speakers might testify. During the hearing the chair determines the order of speakers and whether to limit speakers’ time testifying.

Following the public hearing, the committee chair decides if and when committee members will vote on the bill. Usually the process involves consultation with members. Discussion following a public hearing can involve conversation about new information made public during the hearing. When a substantial rewrite of the bill appears necessary, the committee chair sometimes convenes a working group to work through bill changes.

Thus correct language for new legislation emerges from a careful process of give and take. Members and the public have adequate time to prepare and concerns are addressed. This process is slow — so slow it sometimes involves several legislative sessions.

Speed and secrecy will kill public input. And changes in the actions of committee chairs can, over time, create a Legislature that listens primarily to the input of lobbyists, paid to represent the interest of their clients. Those voices without paid lobbyists are increasingly not heard, their concerns not addressed.


For example, a recent public hearing was held in the Senate mining committee on a bill to limit local people’s voices in sand mine operations. Many traveled by bus from western Wisconsin to testify. The first six hours of the testimony focused primarily on the concerns of those who benefited from the legislation — none of whom lived near a mine. The committee chair finally got to calling the majority of those opposed to the legislation very late in the afternoon — after the bus had to leave taking many opposed to the bill back home.

These unfortunate scenarios are increasingly common in the state Capitol. When citizens take the time to journey to a public hearing and are not able to testify, they rightly feel left out of the process. It’s easy then to give up.

Now Madison, WI wants citizens to buy sanitary insurance!

The trend to require citizens to buy insurance is growing!

The city of Madison is suggesting property owners buy a $70-per-year insurance policy to help pay for sanitary sewer line repairs on private property.

In the past, city engineering crews repaired the portion of a sanitary sewer located in the public right-of-way at the request of the property owner. But state government decided to prevent local government from performing any construction work for which a private person is financially responsible.

Never mind if local officials had been providing the repair program for years. The Legislature and governor apparently considered it to be bad public policy. It’s a good deal for contractors and the insurance company selected by city officials.

It’s the latest example of growing loss of local control. The ban on local government employees doing any work on private property didn’t attract much attention at passage. But the sewer letter from city officials to home owners has people shaking their heads.

The State of Wisconsin is getting mighty uppity with the usurpation of local control.

Let’s list them:

1. The State of Wisconsin (SOW) now prevents local communities from having residency requirements. Firemen, policemen, and other first responders no longer have to live in the local area. This means that in local disasters, first responders and not local any more.

2. Local control over cell phone tower installations was usurped by SOW. I guess the State feels the need to tell the town or suburb what to do.

3. “Legislation was also enacted to restrict the power of local government to regulate landlords and real-estate brokers. Another tells local government how to assess the property value of billboards.”

4. Local control over absentee voting has been removed.

5. The pending mining bills seek to take local control away from towns and villages and give it all to the state.

The SOW under Governor Scott Walker seeks to consolidate power at the state level wherever they can get away with it.

Think global and vote local this year. Your independence may be dependent upon your vote.

SB 349 More talk and more talk

Again, Senate Bill 349 was a topic of conversation with town and county officials.

I attended the Barron County Highway Department Town Day meeting today. Mark Servi does a good job of hosting the towns within Barron County and sharing highway news and information for all. We are fortunate to have him.

Of course, the first speaker got on the topic of SB 349. This bill overrules local authority in many areas in order to benefit the nonmetallic mining industry in Wisconsin. The purpose of the bill is to allow frac sand mining and sand washing operations to avoid local licensing and local ordinances. Here is what the Legislative analysis says:

This bill concerns local governmental authority to regulate air quality, water quality and quantity, and the use of explosives; local government highway use
contracts and local regulation of material disposal sites related to transportation projects of the Department of Transportation (DOT); and local governmental authority to regulate nonmetallic mining. Nonmetallic mining is extracting
nonmetallic materials, such as stone, gravel, clay, and sand.

Towns, cities, and counties are all local government and this bill removes their local authority to regulate most everything related to the side effects of frac sand mining and sand washing.

Why are the state senators doing this? Politics and business are bedfellows and in this case Senators Tiffany , Darling, Farrow, Gudex, Lasee, and Lazich appear to be sleeping with the frac sand companies in Wisconsin.

Why are the frac sand companies doing this? Because the Wisconsin Supreme Court already ruled that towns have the authority to regulate this through the village powers vested in the towns. This ruling means that each company has to negotiate with each town in which they quarry, mine, or wash frac sand before the sand is shipped to North Dakota for the oil and gas industry. (See Zwiefelhofer v. Town of Cooks Valley, 38 Wis. 2d 488 (2012))

Because the Supreme Court decided that towns do have the power to regulate the frac sand operations,  the frac sand mining companies and their Senate acolytes are changing the law to over rule all of it. Money talks, ya know.

Knowing that Wisconsin is open for business (Thanks, Gov. Walker) and that Governor Walker initiated Act 10 to reduce unions plus the Governor is behind Act 20 which puts state limits on what municipalities can do for property tax increases, there is every reason to believe that the Governor will look fondly upon SB 349.

My Town of Prairie Lake passed a resolution opposing SB 349 on November 12th during its Town Board meeting. More towns are likely to follow suit. No one wishes to give the control of air, water, and land quality over to the state. And SB 349  prevents towns from controlling blasting except for conditional use permits that would stipulate when blasting was permitted but no other restrictions.

Write your state legislature and oppose SB 349. Who do you want looking after your interests? Somebody who lives in your town or somebody who spends his/her time in Madison trying to control your air, water, and land quality?

Usurping local authorities: Big Mines in Wisconsin

From a good person that I know:

“I don’t know how much of this is political hype, but I have heard rumblings for some time that the legislature would be putting up a bill to make the state the go-to authority for any frac sand mining permits.”

 Following is a statement from Senator Bob Jauch regarding recently introduced legislation that will significantly reduce the decision making ability of local governments:

This latest legislation being circulated in the State Capitol to restrict local government ability to protect the health and safety of their citizens is another in a long line of insulting power grabs that strengthen mining company control over local decision making and stifle the ability of local governments to protect their citizens. It seems as though the authors of this bill thought the shutdown in Washington was such a good idea that they want to impose limits to shut down the authority of locally elected officials to protect their own communities.

The legislation was written by the WMC and Frac Sand companies who can’t stand the audacity of local officials who enact ordinances to protect the public good of their citizens. It is being pushed by lawmakers who have forgotten that we are supposed to serve the public and not the special interest groups who have apparently been given the keys to the State Capitol.

The proposal is written to overturn a unanimous Supreme Court Decision (Zwiefelhofer v. Town of Crooks Valley, 2012 WI 7) that upheld a towns nonmetallic mining ordinance against a challenge that it was an improperly adopted zoning ordinance. Like many communities that don’t have zoning, the village used police power authority to enact an ordinance regarding frac sand mining.

The legislation puts a stranglehold on elected officials in small communities as they try to responsibly regulate the fast growing frac sand industry. Apparently, the authors believe that the mining companies know better than locally elected officials what is good for the citizens of the area.

There are over 100 frac sand mining and processing sites operating in Wisconsin right now and town, village and county governments are doing everything they can to protect their citizens and give them the most leverage possible in negotiating with these companies. By restricting the types of ordinances and local regulations they can put into to place, this bill essentially hands over control of the health, safety and welfare of the public to a mining company instead of the locally elected officials who are trying to do what is best for their neighbors.

The mining companies are inconvenienced by the democratic process and want to dictate the terms of local projects. It is mind numbing that they have such control over a Legislature that has lost its bearing in serving the public good.

It is appalling that even though the ink is barely dry on the bill, the author and Mining Committee Chair Senator Tiffany has suggested in a private meeting with special interest groups that there may be a hearing within a week. I would hope that he would reconsider that decision and give more time to the citizens so that they can adequately understand the bill and have ample time to share their opinions.

Opposition to this legislation has nothing to do with ones opinion on frac sand mining. The bill erodes local control and is nothing more than a blatant power grab by powerful economic interests to further weaken our democratic process.

The Republican argument for smaller government is bankrupt if this bill proceeds because it reveals the true meaning of local control. They believe in local control as long as the municipality does what the Republicans like. If they don’t, they are happy to reduce their standards and dictate to them how to govern their own community.

Wisconsin Farmers and IoH Rules Part 2

So what are the proposals for Implements of Husbandry changes that will protect town roads and allow for safe and effective transportation of farm goods to markets?

You can read them all here. But know that many of these may be changed due to the feedback received at listening sessions throughout the state. Here are just a few:

IoH is given an expanded 15% weight allowance over the limits as established by the Federal Bridge Formula, except where posted and during periods of spring thaw. This equates to a maximum single axle weight of 23,000 pounds and a gross vehicle weight of 92,000 pounds.

A new IoH weight table will be created to (e.g. 348.30) reflect the 15% allowance based on gross vehicle weight, axle weight and spacing.

Written authorization to exceed the size envelope and weight limits may be requested on an annual basis from the maintaining authority of that roadway. Written authorizations may only be granted when:

The operator is 18 years of age and holds a valid driver’s license. IoH meets lighting, marking, and safety requirements pertaining to IoH in s. 347 (safety requirements) A  travel or route plan for the IoH is submitted. Additional conditions may be set by each maintaining authority (local or state) of which the IoH is operating.

So what does that mean? First it means that all farm implements are permitted to be on the roads if they don’t exceed the current requirements by more than 15%. There is an exception when the bridge, culvert, or roadway itself would be unsafe to handle that weight. The permission to exceed is granted on an annual basis by the municipality ( in this case my fellow Town Board members). Caveats for granting permission includes having a valid drivers license and filing a route plan (like a flight plan for IoH) so the Town will know which roads they are on.

Here’s the rub: As the man said, he farms in three counties, four cities, and many towns. Why should he have to go to each authority in order to move his farm equipment from one parcel to another? Can’t this be streamlined?  Well, the answer is ‘No’. Nobody knows the road conditions better than the local municipality. For example, we have an Amish community in our area and there are two main north-south corridors they use for horse and buggy travel. Our town may want to place some restrictions on movement on those roads when the Amish kids are going to and from school. (This is also our concern with frac sand trucking) I regret that once each year this farmer has to go to maybe ten or twenty towns and get a permit but nobody else knows the roads better than those towns.

Let’s talk about size issues:

Create size limits or an “envelope” for IoH Width envelope:

Width of IoH –15’ (feet); However, an IoH greater than 15’ (feet), but no greater than 17’ (feet) may be operated without written authorization when the IoH operator meets safety requirements to ensure safe passage by other road users.

Width of IoH CMV  –10’ (feet).

Height envelope: Height of IoH –13’ 6”(feet/inches). An IoH greater than 13’6” (feet/inches) may be operated without written authorization. The IoH operator is responsible for ensuring safe clearance of any over head obstructions.

Length envelope: 60’ (feet) for a single IoH; 100’ (feet) for combinations of two IoH; and 70’ (feet) for combinations of three IoH.

As near as I can tell, there will be two classifications of farm vehicles: the standard IoH and now the Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV). There have been instances when creative people have converted trucks into farming vehicles and then tried to not register the truck because it was used in the fields. I think this is another case of evasive and deceptive solutions and so does the Sheriff. When a farmer said at the meeting that trucks can be considered IoH in some instances, the Sheriff stood up and explained that his deputies know the difference between IoH and trucks and that trucks are trucks no matter what they do on the farm. That issue was then settled that if it looks like a truck and drives like a truck that it must be a truck regardless of what it does for the farmer.

There were a lot of references to 6-row corn planters that were 17′ 6″ wide and how they would all be illegal under the new rules but the DATCP said they got the message that 17′ 6″ was needed. Another person stood up and said “well, in the future it might be 18 ‘ or more. Who knows what the implement manufacturers will do?” The reply was that implement manufacturers will just have to design them so they fold in. They have some creative engineers and can figure this out.

The second-to-last thing I want to comment on is this approach to requiring a drivers license. Some farmers said their boys had been driving tractors since they were 12 and 14 and they were not as big a problem as some of the old time farmers with new IoHs because the old timers did not know how to drive them. This was supposed to be an effort to say that IoH drive certification was more important than a drivers license. My view is that anyone who drives a vehicle on a road should have a drivers license.Period. I would also require that IoH drivers also have a certification for traveling on roads. Anyone who has seen the size of some IoHs or the length of some of them knows that special care (and therefore special training) is needed to drive them.

And finally, some farmers just want the weight restrictions removed for farm products. This created a buzz because all of us know that frac sand trucking would want the same consideration. The road does not care whether it is corn or sand or rocks or asphalt. Weight is weight and any effort to grant one type of goods as a weight exception means the frac sand companies will be lining the coffers of future elected officials to get the same thing.

There is more to be done on this issue, of course.

I liked seeing that 30+ % of the attendees were elected officials. Maintaining the life of a road is a serious way to control costs. Things that shorten the life of a road is wasteful. Kudos to all who attended.

Act 20: The Twilight Zone for Wisconsin Towns

The Governor continues his campaign to control municipalities under the guise of controlling property taxes for you and I. Under Wisconsin Act 20, the governor is now penalizing any municipality that needs more revenue than what the (beneficent) state government wishes them to have. It almost seems as if Gov Walker is saying, Hey, if you want my state money for your roads or other town needs then you have to accept my rules. Does anyone remember when taxes were supposed to be used for ALL the people they are collected from? Now it seems the Governor is putting his boot on the throat of municipalities instead of letting them control themselves. Here is what I mean:

  1. What is the penalty for exceeding the levy limit?

    The penalty is a loss of shared revenue. This is a dollar for dollar penalty. For example, if a municipality exceeds its levy limit by $1,000.00, its state shared revenue payment will be reduced by $1,000.00. If the amount of the penalty is greater than the state shared revenue amount for that year, the remaining penalty amount is deducted from subsequent state shared revenue payments until the penalty is paid in full.

  2. How does sec. 66.0602 (2m)(b) Wis. Stats. created in the 2013 Wisconsin Act 20 affect our municipality or county?

    Within the 2013 Wisconsin Act 20, the state created a law (sec. 66.0602 (2m)(b), Wis. Stats.), which can be summarized as:

    On or after July 2, 2013, if a municipality adopts a new fee or a fee increase for covered services (which were partly or wholly funded in 2013 by property tax levy), that municipality must reduce its levy limit in the current year by the amount of the new fee or fee increase, less any previous reductions. This also applies to payments in lieu of taxes.

    For more information, view the Levy limits – 2013 WI Act 20 fact sheet.

So if you are a municipality and your budget exceeds your levy limit, you once could go to the town’s people and ask for an increase. Gov Walker has squashed that approach by saying if the town approves an increased levy OR if the town assesses a fee to pay for something that once was paid entirely by taxes, the state will withhold money from the town as a kind of punishment for balancing its budget.

Shame on Gov Walker for punishing towns who try to balance their budgets.

Makes me think that the State of Wisconsin might be seeking an excuse to enact Michigan-like legislation to take over distressed municipalities in Wisconsin. It is all about the power, isn’t it?


Gov Walker: Destroying municipal governance

What else can you call Wisconsin ACT 20 except a grab for more control over Wisconsin’s municipalities?

Reforming Government:

The budget reforms are not limited to state government. The Governors policies resulted in the first consecutive reductions in property tax bills for the typical homeowner in 15 years in 2011 and 2012.

This budget will continue this restraint in order to keep property tax bill increases for the median value home below 1 percent in each year by limiting municipal, county and technical college district levies to the growth in property value resulting from new construction as well as holding the line on school district expenditures.

 The Governors budget also takes a significant step towards reforming government entitlement programs by restoring these programs to their original intent- a safety net for our neediest citizens.

So let me see if I got this right, the 17% reduction in property values and lost property tax revenue due to the housing crisis was not made up by Gov. Walker in previous years so many municipalities struggled to find funds to do what towns typically do: Fix roads.  Less money to fix roads and bridges cannot now be made up through increased levies or fees under the new Walker budget. Which means that roads and bridges will further deteriorate in towns because the costs of road maintenance  is going through the roof. At $280,000 per mile to rebuild one road in town, our town is in serious trouble immediately. (In case you did not know, our entire Town budget is about $570,000 a year …which is two miles of rebuilt road…if we stopped fire department and ambulance services and schools.And no one is going to do that.)

It appears that Governor Walker is less concerned about the quality of roads and more concerned about the quantity of municipality savings.

Why am I surprised the Governor does not have the same level of concern about the quantity of state road savings?

The Governor’s budget maintains the investment and schedule to rebuild the Zoo Interchange, the Hoan Bridge, and the I-94 North-South corridor. The Governor continues to repay the 2005 through 2009 raids on the State’s transportation fund and allocates more general fund revenue for transportation uses. This budget also recommends an increase in state highway development, rehabilitation and maintenance funding.

I am pretty sure that more is going to hit the fan as we learn about the content of Wisconsin Act 20 that became effective June 30th this year. For example, the controls over levy limits are Leviathan in nature. Look here:

This takes away town authority to control and/offer some essential services. Snow plowing is nothing to ignore, for example.Who wants to be the town that ran out of money to plow its roads during a May snowstorm like this year?

Dark days are ahead but it will take a couple of years to get to that point. You can just figure that towns will be more dependent upon state funding instead of less as years go by. Gov Walker is no different from the progressives who want to control you, he just does it differently, that’s all.

The Wisconsin Empire Strikes Back!

Just when you thought your Wisconsin government could not get more political. Before breakfast one morning, the Wisconsin Empire struck a blow against the free press that was housed in a University building….

June 5th, 2013

“Joint Finance Committee lawmakers voted at about 6 a.m. to add a provision to the state budget expelling the “Center for Investigative Journalism” from University of Wisconsin offices. The vote was 12-4 on party lines, with Republicans in the majority.”

“The relevant text from Motion 999 (Download the full motion PDF here):

Center for Investigative Journalism. Prohibit the Board of Regents from permitting the Center for Investigative Journalism to occupy any facilities owned or leased by the Board of Regents. In addition, prohibit UW employees from doing any work related to the Center for Investigative Journalism as part of their duties as a UW employee.”

Apparently, the committee does not want investigative journalism anywhere near young and impressionable college students. The CIJ operates on a $400,000 budget from donors but occupies space at the University.

Send letters to your Wisconsin State Legislators to change the budget bill.

Go here to stay abreast of the issue.

Why is the Empire striking back?

Last year, Associated Press Media Editors honored the Center and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication with its inaugural Innovator of the Year for College Students award.

The Joint Finance Committee recently relied upon our investigation into the reliability of GPS tracking of offenders to curtail the governor’s requested expansion of GPS tracking until the reliability can be proven.

“The Center’s award-winning journalism is making Wisconsin a better place by shining a light on key state issues to strengthen our democracy while training the next generation of investigative journalists,” Hall said.

The Empire in Wisconsin is sending a message that actions have consequences.


The Selling of Wisconsin Land?

Something interesting here from The CapTimes. Seems like Tom Larson does not care who owns Wisconsin land… (Note there is more to the story at the link below about selling state property for no bidding “Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, wrote for an upcoming opinion piece that “no conservation-minded Democrat or Republican should support a no-bid sale of state stewardship land.”)

On Wednesday, I (Jessica Vanegerin) spoke with Thomas Larson, vice president of legal and public affairs with the Wisconsin Realtors Association, who had suggested changing the law.

When asked if the Wisconsin Realtors Association planned to try and get the proposal before the Legislature as a stand-alone bill, Larson said he planned to first gather more information.

Specifically, he wants to obtain clarity from the state Attorney General’s office on whether the state law was already void because of a federal law based on the General Agreement on Trade in Services, or GATS.

That treaty, which took effect in 1995 and was signed by some 150 member countries of the World Trade Organization, says foreign corporations and foreign investors need to be treated the same as their domestic counterparts.

“We want that answer first … so people don’t think we are trying to change state law,” Larson said. “That was the basis for saying Wisconsin’s (current) law doesn’t seem to have any teeth or any impact if this treaty overrides.”

Current state law prevents an individual from another country from owning land in Wisconsin unless they live in the state. Larson argues this conflicts with the GATS treaty.

Walker’s proposal would have changed that to allow “nonresident alien individuals” to own land in the state.

A separate provision in state law prevents a foreign corporation from owning more than 640 acres of land. Walker’s proposal would have changed this by removing the acreage cap and allowing foreign corporations and foreign individuals to own unlimited amounts of land for any purpose.

The one exception is farming. Under current state law, foreign corporations cannot farm on land they own. Walker’s proposal would not have changed that.