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Beep, beep, get moving PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 17:47

The legislature should act so that Wisconsin stops being one of the few states plodding along with a 65 mph speed limit

You know the type. You see them everyday on the freeway. They’re in the passing lane, but they’re not passing—they’re blocking. Clueless, stubborn or intent on making a statement about the virtue of careful driving, they insist on keeping their vehicle dawdling at a speed so much slower than surrounding traffic that it causes congestion and frustration, not to mention risky tailgating and right-lane passing.

    Among the states, Wisconsin is that pokey, oblivious, self-righteous squatter in the fast lane. Wisconsin is the only state between Connecticut and Oregon, and one of only nine in the continental U.S., that clings to a 65 mph speed limit on interstate highways.

    The state Assembly voted to up the limit to 70 mph last year, but the Senate refused to go along. Opponents played the worn-out “speed kills” card.

    The notion that raising the speed limit by 5 mph makes highways more dangerous is not supported by research or the experience of states that have made that sensible move.

    A number of studies have shown that the drivers on heavily traveled roads who are most likely to be involved in crashes are those moving significantly slower than the average speed on the highway.

    A study sponsored by the National Motorists Association found that it is the difference in speed among vehicles on the highway, rather than speed itself, that is the more frequent cause of accidents in heavy traffic.

    The study showed that when a speed limit was raised to the speed traveled by 85% of the vehicles, accidents did not increase. Based on the study, the NMA went so far as to claim: “If a speed limit is raised to actually reflect real travel speeds, the new higher limit will make the roads safer.”

    That may be subject to debate, but one thing is certain about Wisconsin’s interstate highways and other four-lane or wider limited-access highways: Most drivers are not observing the 65 mph speed limit (and, we might add, are not being ticketed for it).

    It is also obvious that the differential between the faster-driving majority and those who carefully comply with the outmoded speed limit is a road hazard.

    Safety is not the only consideration in Wisconsin’s speed-limit backwardness. Interstate highways are designed to move a high volume of traffic at a reasonably fast speed. These roads do not exist merely for convenience; they help drive the economy.

    While Wisconsin is stuck with a speed limit that was enacted before seat belts were mandatory, motor vehicle safety has advanced at remarkable speed. Today’s vehicles, even basic family sedans, have sophisticated anti-lock brakes, traction-control systems and a plethora of safety features that make them safe to drive fast. The freeways themselves, engineering data attest, are designed for speeds in excess of 80 mph.
  
 Last week Rep. Paul Tittle (R-Manitowoc) introduced a bill that would direct the Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit to 70 mph on roads it would approve for the higher speed.

    Republicans should use their big majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate to sound their horns and signal the legislators holding up traffic in the passing lane to get out of the way.

 
Fight this move to silence citizens on natural resources PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 18:50

The move to strip a citizens board of its power to counter political control of conservation must be stopped by the Legislature

If Gov. Scott Walker has his way, the outdoors-loving citizens of Wisconsin who have had a voice for decades in the management of the state’s natural resources will be silenced. Before that happens, the anglers, hunters, campers, hikers, boaters, birdwatchers, bikers, skiers, conservation supporters, every person who has a care for Wisconsin’s natural environment should be anything but silent. They should be loud and they should say to state legislators: Don’t you dare let this attempt to take oversight of the stewardship of our resources away from the public and give it to political interests succeed.

    The attempt is in a proposal in the governor’s 2015-17 budget that would end the power of the Natural Resources Board to vote on policy decisions of the Department of Natural Resources. The board is made up of seven citizens appointed by the governor.


    The change would be radical. The board has had authority over DNR rules and decisions since it was created by state statute in 1927.


    The change would kill the last vestige of citizen control of natural resource management. The role of the board’s members would be limited to “advisory only.” DNR authority would reside exclusively in the office of the politically appointed DNR secretary.


    The move would further shut off citizen input to the DNR’s resource management by rendering the Wisconsin Conservation Congress useless. The congress, which has five delegates from each county, was established by state law to give recommendations on conservation issues from the public to the Natural Resources Board, which then could act on them in determining DNR policy.

The governor’s proposal stands out boldly in the budget, as though it were wrapped in deer hunters’ blaze orange. Like all recent Wisconsin budgets, the new Walker spending plan includes plenty of policy matters masked as financial issues, but with the natural resources move there is no pretense about being a legitimate budget item. The proposal has nothing to do with money. Natural Resources Board members are not paid. Taking away the board’s power will do nothing to alleviate the state’s deficit.

    Nor is any need for change addressed by the move. The DNR has functioned well with a measure of citizen control. The record over many years shows that the Natural Resources Board has effectively balanced the interests of the individuals who enjoy the state’s parks, waters and hunting grounds with those of business and environmentalists.


    All of this has been done in full public view. Meetings of the Natural Resources Board are 100% open to the public without exception. If the board is denied a voting role, decisions of the type it once made will likely never see the light of day until they’re final when exclusively in the hands of a political appointee.


    The National Resources Board has been a safeguard against political contamination of the management of the state’s natural resources, the sort of influence buying implicit, for example, in the secret donation of $700,000 by Gogebic Taconite, the company seeking to develop an environmentally controversial iron mine in northern Wisconsin, to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a major Walker election supporter.


    George Meyer, who was DNR secretary under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, called the stripping of power from the board “the final removal of citizen-based conservation in Wisconsin. It gives all the power to the political appointee of the governor.”


    Meyer is currently executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, one of more than a dozen conservation organizations that have come out against the governor’s proposal.


    Wisconsin citizens need to add their voices to this opposition. Nothing that Wisconsin has to offer its people is more valuable than its incomparable natural resources, and the people are entitled to a voice in deciding how those resources are used and protected.

 
Shortchanging education is not the Wisconsin Idea PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 February 2015 19:46

The governor’s budget, with its slashed education funding and failed attack on the UW mission, feeds a perception of hostility to public schools

Is it merely a case of misplaced priorities or is it outright hostility to public schools?

    The question refers to the treatment of education, from K-12 to universities, in the budget proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.

    Following funding reductions in a previous Walker budget that ranked as the biggest cuts in state school aid in the nation, the new budget proposes to decrease state money for public schools by another $150 per student in the first year of the 2015-16 budget.

    The budget drops the other shoe on education by cutting state funds for the University of Wisconsin system by $300 million. If approved by the Legislature, it would be the largest cut to UW ever.

    These cuts come with no rationale, no attempt at justification other than the refrain that state has a deficit that mandates reduced spending.

     This is the deficit that was not supposed to exist given the state’s improved economy and the governor’s claim to have fixed the so-called structural deficit so successfully that taxes could be cut. Yet the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau is now forecasting a shortfall of as much as $2 billion.

    The budget feeds a perception that the Walker administration has a special animus for public education.

    The same budget that reduces funding for already hard-pressed school districts provides increased funding for private schools. The same budget that cuts state money for UW by 13% also included, in the first version made public last week, a stunning rewriting of the university’s mission statement that erased the long respected Wisconsin Idea.

    The Wisconsin Idea is the principle embedded in the UW mission: “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.” The University of Wisconsin mission statement, which was written more than a century ago and became known as the Wisconsin Idea as admiration for it grew across the nation, honors the idea of public service and cites the university’s purpose to not only educate people, but to serve society and “improve the human condition.” The statement is recorded in a state statute.

    That soaring language was crossed out in the Walker budget and replaced with a new UW mission—“to meet the state’s workforce needs.”

    Walker’s attempt to redefine UW, one of America’s great public universities, as a trade school, and presumably an institution that could get by with $300 million less in state support, will be remembered as one of the more astonishing miscalculations in the state’s political history.

    The governor apparently didn’t reckon with the fact that a vast number of state residents, including conservatives and Republicans who voted for him, are graduates and proud and loyal supporters of the UW system. When his attempt to change the university’s mission became public, the reaction, including veritable explosions of criticism in social media, was overwhelmingly negative.

    Walker backed down quickly but clumsily, claiming the mission changes were a “drafting error.” The claim was found to be a pants-on-fire lie by the Politifact network and the language has been excised from the budget.

    Nonetheless, the Wisconsin Idea is still under attack in the budget. Its noble aspirations apply not just to the university, but to the state of Wisconsin, and its precepts have guided the state in its progressive tradition as a national leader in good government and good education. The proposed cutbacks in state education spending stand in the way of living up to its ideals.

    Simply put, the spending cuts, if not mitigated by the Legislature, will hurt education in Wisconsin, from kindergarten to the UW’s graduate schools.

    The governor was forced by overwhelming public opinion to abandon his attempt to change the purpose of the state’s university system. Now it would be a service to the people of Wisconsin—and in spite of presidential campaign distractions he is still duty bound to serve them—if he would realize on his own that adequate funding for schools is essential to, as the still vital Wisconsin Idea expresses it, “educate people and improve the human condition.”



 
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