Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: Environment

When College Students Start to Think

University of Wisconsin campuses have a well-deserved reputation for being safe havens for liberal thought.  But at the UW-Fox Valley, something odd is happening – it appears a backlash is underway.

It all began in November, when Campus Dean Dr. James Perry suggested on his blog that the campus should have more “green” parking spaces.  Apparently, the campus has set aside certain choice parking spots for students with Priuses (Prii?) or other “low emitting and fuel efficient” (LEFEV) vehicles.  Dr. Perry suggested expanding the number of “green” spaces, to encourage more students to buy these cars, saying:

The Fox plan includes creating a sustainable a community [sic] to the best of our ability. I would hope that the number of spaces that have the ”green vehicle restriction” would actually increase, because these the vast majority of scientists support the need to reduce our global carbon emissions, not to mention reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Soon after this post went up, students caught wind of the plan to expand the green parking space program.  (You know, students – the ones who actually have to drive to campus and fight for a parking spot.) Dozens of them started posting comments, just destroying Dr. Perry’s rationale for more handicapped-style “green” spots.  Many of them pointed out the pure folly of trying to ascribe environmental sainthood to people merely because they drive a Prius.  Here are some samples:

Also, just because my hypothetical Civic GX with its ridiculous gas mileage has a higher green score, that justifies me parking closer? Am I better because of it? Hey, if I have Solar Panels on the roof of my house does that mean I get to cut in line the cafeteria? If I use only biodegradable cups, does that mean I get to register for classes before everyone else? The comment you left at the end “Not everyone at Fox has a LEFEV. Those people just need to walk a bit further.” is essentially a statement saying “Suck it up and deal with the fact that those other people are better then you.” Perhaps I should sit at the back of the bus to campus if I don’t own a Green vehicle either.

***

Ignorant can mean both. The tone of your blog implied both.

While there isn’t no Prius available for $50,000, some (myself included) live at or below poverty levels and aren’t quite in the position to cough up enough money for a new or newish car. I don’t have $22,000+ or the means to fund a new car.

I’m sure that even students that are a bit financially better off than myself aren’t quite able to buy a fuel efficient vehicle.

Thanks, though, for the snide aside. Thought you’d be more in touch with the average salary in our current political climate.

***

It defeats the purpose to provide green parking when you are in turn forcing cars who have higher emissions to drive around a lot longer searching for a parking space.

If you are looking for a way to reward those who are green, find a fair way to reward not just those who are wealthy.

***

It should also be noted that the green spots are rarely full. Why should more be added? To further aggravate those who can’t park in those stalls, and never will be able to because of the inability to afford such a vehicle? Parking gets crowded at UWFox, and there is little need for these spots already. I don’t view these spots as beneficial as is, and would be quite frustrated to see even more go up.

I challenge you, Dean Perry, to do 1 thing: Count the number of green-vehicles, and count the number of non-green vehicles. The ratio doesn’t need to be counted to be known: very few to very many. Ask yourself: are more of these green spots truly necessary? The answer, I would hope, is evident.

***

“I would hope that the number of spaces that have the ”green vehicle restriction” would actually increase, because these the vast majority of scientists support the need to reduce our global carbon emissions, not to mention reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Fair enough, but when people choose to live 20+ miles from where they work, it seems a little silly to reward them with a special “green” parking perk just because they can afford a newer more fuel efficient vehicle. I can probably drive a tank from where I live and leave a smaller carbon footprint than someone driving a Prius from Larsen or Winneconne.

***

How do we measure each person’s green footprint? Maybe that’s a task that we can request the campus to work on. Maybe we will only issue GREEN parking stickers to those who have the highest green footprints?

The lesson, as always, is that environmentalism is wonderful when discussed in the abstract.  It’s great for picking up girls in bars.  But it means an entirely different thing when it means having to walk your butt an extra half mile in the freezing Wisconsin cold.

Redefining “The Public”

In July, having completed the Herculean task of driving the state deeper into deficit, Wisconsin lawmakers sought respite in their home districts for the summer.  Now they have returned, to take up much weightier issues, most notably figuring out who gets the run the  Department of Natural Resources.

Currently, the DNR secretary is picked by the Governor to oversee the state’s environmental policy.  This wasn’t always the case, as the DNR Board of Supervisors used to pick the secretary (George Meyer was the last board-appointed leader, until Governor Tommy Thompson signed a law giving himself the authority to pick.)

Now, with Democrats in full control of all branches of state government, environmentalists are applying a full court press to have the law changed back to board-controlled appointment power.  They believe that if the board picks the secretary, somehow they will be less “political” than if the governor picks.  Because, as we all know, the Sierra Club (who would essentially then control the board) is above politics.

Today, several environmental groups (Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin Conservation Congress) issued a press release which proves the “public” supports granting the DNR board appointment authority.  The list contains the names of 270 various conservation groups across the state who are supposedly on board with the law change (and as we know, the Legislature generally does whatever the Wisconsin Muzzleloaders Association asks.)

Of course, some would consider these groups attempting to influence state legislation to be “special interest groups.”  But not campaign finance watchdog Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign – who has already come out in favor of the legislation.  You see, the the WDC, “special interests” are merely “groups that push conservative legislation.”  Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is a special interest – the Sierra Club is “the public.”

McCabe has spent years railing against groups who conceal their campaign donors and attempt to influence state legislation.  Yet here we have a list of 270 such groups attempting to gain control of the DNR secretary, and you’ll hear deafening silence from the so-called “good government” groups. (It has been pointed out time and again on this blog that McCabe’s group itself is a special interest that conceals its donors and attempts to push state legislation – such as a single payer health program.)

So I anxiously await the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign press release decrying this special interest influence, and calling on the Wisconsin Sharptailed Grouse Society to open their books for public scrutiny.  Holding my breath.

It just goes to show that this bill has nothing to do with saving the air, water, and fish, and has everything to do with which humans get to order us around.  There’s a long way between appointment authority and cleaner water.

Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit

If any one thing characterizes the Jim Doyle gubernatorial administration, it is his willingness to change his mind given his circumstances.  For instance:

  • When running for Governor, he specifically supported eliminating the “Frankenstein Veto,” saying governors shouldn’t be able to write their own laws merely by making the budget into a word puzzle.  As governor, Doyle flipped completely and said he believed this authority was a necessary power for the executive.  
  • As a gubernatorial candidate in 2002, Doyle ripped Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk over her plan to release prisoners early, positioning himself as the “law and order” candidate.  As governor, Doyle has proposed essentially what Falk sought to do – release “nonviolent” prisoners early to save money on prisons. 
  • Facing a budget deficit in 2003, Doyle strongly emphasized how important it was for the government not to raise taxes.  His budget in 2009, coupled with an already-enacted budget “repair” bill, raises taxes by $2.2 billion.  Doyle also has repeatedly warned of the dangers of using budget tricks and one time money to balance the budget, then gone on and done exactly what he’s warned against in record numbers.

Finally, Doyle has flipped on a position that will rile his supporters.  Environmentalists, who already feel some skepticism toward Doyle for his support of streamlining DNR permit processing, have been pushing for the Department of Natural Resources secretary to be picked by the Natural Resources Board, and not the governor.  Attorney General Doyle supported shifting appointing authority back to the board.  Governor Doyle clearly does not.

Here’s an excerpt from a blow-off form letter Doyle has sent to environmentalists, as posted at Wispolitics.com:

“I recognize that there are legitimate arguments on both sides, but I believe that a system that has a strong board and a quality secretary appointed by the Governor is the most effective.”

Yes – I am certain Doyle has been sitting in his office rubbing the top of his head in anguish over this change in position.  In fact, look for Doyle to have another epiphany when there’s a Republican governor in the East Wing.  We’ll no doubt be hearing from him again about how awful it is for the governor to have appointment power.

More importantly, at what point do we start to tune out what Doyle says and start focusing on what he actually does?  Quoting him in news stories is easy; digging into his contradictory policies is a lot harder.  Let’s hope the regrettable decline in news coverage in this state doesn’t let politicians off the hook so easily.

Poor Stewardship of Tax Money

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle’s proposed 2007-09 biennial budget has a little something for everyone. If you think insuring more people with taxpayer funds is a priority, you’ll be pleased with the proposal. If you support taxing hospitals and oil companies, that’s in there for you. And if you’re one of the twelve people in Wisconsin that thinks the state should prioritize buying up a lot more land, then drop your bongos and listen up – you’re covered there, too.

Doyle’s budget proposes increasing the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program by 75% per year beginning in 2010 – adding a total of $1.6 billion in total state spending over 10 years. Surely, he’s giving in to the woodchuck lobby, who listed “more serenity” as their number one campaign issue last year (barely beating out “don’t shoot us,” and “less Rosie O’Donnell on TV”).

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 18% of Wisconsin’s total land is currently being held for public conservation by various levels of government – an irony completely lost on advocates of “affordable housing,” who don’t realize that the more land government takes off the market, the more expensive the remaining land gets. It is estimated that the state will have to pay $48 million in debt service payments on Stewardship land in 2007, before any more land is even purchased.

Doyle’s love affair with the Stewardship program represents a bouillabaisse of broken state government concepts. First, the state incurs debt to purchase land. Anyone who’s taken out a mortgage knows that they can expect to pay two to three times the purchase price of their home once interest is accounted for. Despite the current dire economic straits of state government, Doyle continues to rack up the state’s credit card debt in order to pacify his environmental supporters. It’s not Wisconsin citizens who are paying to buy these parcels of land, it’s their kids – for the next twenty years. Until my one-year old son figures out a way to make eating crayons profitable, he’s already in the hole a couple million.

Secondly, it’s not as if Stewardship is the most trustworthy program with the use of state dollars. In the year 2000, the Legislative Audit Bureau conducted a study to investigate complaints that the state was overpaying for land purchased through the Stewardship program. The audit found that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was paying an average of 120% more per acre for properties than their assessed value reflected. In fact, on many purchases, the DNR would accept the price of a property based on an appraisal done by the property’s seller.

(Note to self: Invite the DNR to my next garage sale, as they may pay well over the current nickel that a pair of my old underwear fetches.)

For instance, the Department purchased a 1.4 acre property in Newport State Park in Brown County for $360,000, while the assessed value was $70,000 – meaning the state paid 414.3% more than the assessed value. Even on large grant purchases, the DNR wasn’t even doing their own appraisal, instead counting on the word of the seller to set the price.

In the 2002 budget adjustment bill, the Legislature changed the law to require two appraisals, although Wisconsin taxpayers continue to pay the debt service on previous purchases. However, lest anyone think the program was now on the straight and narrow, Doyle came along and used the much-publicized “Frankenstein Veto” to restore a lack of accountability in state land purchasing.

Here’s how it worked: Since the inception of the Stewardship program, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance had the ability to review state purchases of land over $250,000. As a response to what they perceived as a lack of accountability in the program, the Joint Finance Committee included a provision in the 2003-05 budget to reduce the minimum land purchase amount that triggered legislative review to zero. This means all Stewardship programs would have to go through the Legislature for approval.

In crafting that budget provision, the Joint Finance Committee created a new statute. Since the existing statute that set the minimum amount of purchase at $250,000 was no longer necessary, they included a brief provision that repealed that section. This line said simply:

“SECTION 802m. 23.0917 (6) (b) of the statutes is repealed.”

Wisconsin Statute 23.0917(6) was the statute that authorized the Joint Finance Committee to have oversight, and subsection (b) was the portion that specified the minimum $250,000 amount necessary for legislative oversight.

Doyle went in with his veto pen and simply eliminated the (b) from that sentence. As a result, the budget provision read:

“SECTION 802m. 23.0917 (6) of the statutes is repealed.”

With the veto of that one letter in the sentence, Doyle was able to repeal the entire statute that granted legislative oversight.

As a result, Doyle is now proposing drastically increasing a program that plunges the state into more debt, has a shoddy history of accountability, and over which he has unilateral control. Makes perfect sense, right?

Maybe it does to the millions of Wisconsin squirrels who will now be able to move out of their parents’ basements. Of course, they’ll all move back when they realize how nasty squirrel neighborhood associations can get.

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