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home : opinions : our editorials February 26, 2015


Hands off Natural Resources Board
As leader of a party that heralds decentralized government, Gov. Scott Walker pays lip service to that principal, but actions speak louder than words. His proposal to reduce the authority of the Natural Resources Board to a strictly advisory role is difficult to see as anything but an attempt to consolidate power in the Governor's office.
For nearly 90 years the Natural Resources Board or it predecessor, the Conservation Commission, has set state policy when it comes to issues involving the air we breath, the water we drink and the wildlife we value. The board is comprised of seven citizen members. They are appointed by the governor, but because they serve staggered 6-year terms, no one governor determines the makeup of the board. It was established that way to take some of the politics out of natural resource issues.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Paying the price
Barron County District Attorney Angela Beranek makes a good case for adding a fourth prosecutor to her office. The number of cases handled have exploded over the years. While there are more judges, more law enforcement officers and more support staff to handle those cases, the District Attorney's Office is still working with the same number of prosecutors it had 20 years ago.
At Monday's County Board meeting, Beranek told the supervisors that if the state doesn't pay for a fourth prosecutor, she will ask the board to fund it with county money. The danger in the county stepping up and paying for the position is that the state is likely to expect it in perpetuity.
There are multiple variables as to why the cases have reached a number that has the three prosecutors now in the office spending so much time in the courtroom and not enough time in the office reviewing cases and filing charges. One very obvious reason is that the number of total law enforcement officers in the county jumped from 37 in 1993 to 62 in 2012, a nearly 68% increase.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015
UW undervalued by Walker
Gov. Scott Walker made yet another dubious decision regarding the state's public education last week when he proposed editing the University of Wisconsin System's mission statement, including striking several phrases central to what's known as the Wisconsin Idea. The Wisconsin Idea promotes education as a search for truth and for knowledge of truth to be applied for the betterment of humanity as a whole. After widespread uproar over the changes, Walker backed off the next day, saying "it was a mistake that someone made." Whether that someone was Walker or a member of his staff, it reflects poorly on his leadership of the state's education.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Changing the rules after 170 years
The Wisconsin Legislature recently passed a bill, that could change the way the state Supreme Court selects its chief justice. This is the second time it passed both houses, so now it will be included on the ballot for a statewide referendum April 7.
For the last 170 years, the most senior member of the high court has served as the chief justice. The new bill, passed along party lines with Republican support, allows the Supreme Court justices to elect a chief justice for a 2-year term.
Proponents of the change say that an election is the most democratic way to choose a leader. Leadership should be based on merit, not on longevity, and will lead to a better functioning court. Legislators against the change say that it is a slap in the face to current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a longstanding liberal judge. With conservative justices now in the majority on the court, a change in the selection process of its leader could have a major impact on the Supreme Court.
There is no compelling reason aside from partisan politics to change the way the chief Justice is selected. Justice Abrahamson has been a very capable leader during her time as chief Justice. Changes like this, along with the huge sums of out- of-state money used to finance election campaigns for the Supreme Court, further politicizes our justice system and is not in the best interest of Wisconsin citizens.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Drug testing plan is bad medicine
Democrat leadership in the state Legislature has been cautious in their criticisms of Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to require drug tests for people filing to receive state benefits. The leaders say they need to see more details of the plan before commenting further.
But this time the devil is not in the details. The proposal is just plain wrong in principal. Forcing tens of thousands of Wisconsinites to give up their inalienable right of liberty and their Constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable search is an affront to basic American values.
Yes, it would be a good thing if some people didn't abuse such programs as BadgerCare Plus health coverage, FoodShare and unemployment compensation. But the vast majority of people getting such assistance are deserving of the kind of help we designed these programs to provide.
It also would be beneficial to be able to identify people with drug addictions, provide them treatment and train them for better jobs, as Walker proposes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
The cost of bipartisanship
Leadership in the Wisconsin Assembly this week changed the per diem stipends for representatives' food and lodging from $88 to $138 per day. At first glance, the changes seem a little self-serving, especially when there are many other issues of higher priority to constituents.
The State Senate has indicated per diems will stay at $88. Any cost over the stipend the legislators pay out of pocket. Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, who travels as far as any legislator, said the $88 has been "adequate" since she entered the Legislature in 2011. Bewley chose to rent an apartment instead of hunt for hotels during overnight stays.
Legislators can keep any money they don't spend, but must cover any extra costs out-of-pocket. Getting a hotel room-much less a room and day's worth of meals-for $88 is not impossible, but can be difficult.
But the per diem changes are more equitable than the old ones, which were passed in 2001. The changes include lowering the stipend for representatives who do not stay overnight in Madison from $88 to $69.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Think before you drink
Because of parties and get-togethers, the risk of sharing the road with a drunken driver is higher on holidays like New Year's Eve, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In fact, the most dangerous day of the year for drunken driving on the nation's roads is New Year's Day.
So, please, if you're planning on feeling no pain when the new year rolls in, first appoint a designated driver in your group.
Other smart moves are to save the number of the local cab service in your phone before heading out. Arrange a hotel stay for you and your friends. Plan to stay with a friend.
According to the state's Division of Motor Vehicles, traffic fatalities in Barron County are down considerably this year. Seven traffic fatalities were reported in both 2012 and 2013. This year to date, three have been reported.
Let's keep that number there and before you tip that first glass or bottle tonight, think before you drink.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
A tax vs. services balancing act
Property tax bills arrived this month for most land-owning citizens of Wisconsin, undoubtedly stoking ire in many people otherwise expecting Christmas cards and gift packages. Levies in the state totaled $10.6 billion in 2014, 1.3% more than the prior year and the largest increase since 2011 when the increase was 2.6%, according to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance.
This comes despite the news that Gov. Scott Walker announced sizeable reductions in Wisconsin technical college levies. For example, the average taxpayer in the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College district will pay $124 less by removing $27 million from the levy, according to the governor's office. The levy reductions are made possible by increased state aid.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014
WMC's radical sand rhetoric
Kurt Bauer, CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, last week published a letter titled "Continuing Wisconsin's Era of Reform" promoting the business association's legislative agenda for 2015. In it Bauer pushes policy to expand growth in the frac sand industry. He blames "radical environmentalists" for slowing the regulatory process. He said, "Their goal is to stop sand mining by driving up local regulatory costs that create a patchwork of illogical rules."
Bauer's label of people opposing frac sand mining is a glaring mischaracterization. In many local town board meetings people have stepped forward asking for air and water safeguards, property value guarantees, minimized hours of trucking and operation or no mining at all. They don't do this as radical environmentalists. They do this as local citizens concerned for their rural quality of life.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


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