Monday, May 7, 2007

Put An End To The End Run

It has come to light that an item slipped into the proposed 2007-'09 state budget by a legislative committee will allow Wisconsin utilities to substitute purchased Canadian hydroelectric power for locally-generated wind power.

That change will, if adopted, undo extensive efforts by a diverse citizens panel which produced the wind power requirement to help the environment and also get Wisconsin launched into the business of locally-produced alternative power.

This is not the first time that environmentalists could say that their issues and goals were targeted by an end run power play called by politicos and others who can use their insider positions to tweak the process and maneuver around citizen input offered in good faith and the full glare of policy-making sunshine.

Three years ago, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission was about a quarter of a million dollars shy of the million bucks it needed to embark on a water supply study first requested by Waukesha County.

The missing quarter of a million dollars had been sought by SEWRPC from Milwaukee County. But the cash-starved Milwaukee County Board was unwilling or unlikely to pony up the money, especially because SEWRPC had earlier recommended a freeway expansion plan within Milwaukee over the objections of the County Board, many county residents and the Milwaukee Common Council.

But the chairman of the water study planning committee also served as the chairman of a second, even-more obscure committee that oversaw some County mapping functions, and this mapping committee had a substantial treasury - - created from mere $4 fees collected routinely and virtually invisibly from county residents and businesses when they sold properties.

With little fanfare, the obscure committee voted to send SEWRPC the money it needed to initiate the project - - a maneuver denounced by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett who rightly saw it as an end run around the wishes of the city.

None the less, the study got underway, and will be completed in late 2007 or 2008.

It is expected to recommend diversions of Lake Michigan water beyond Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to Waukesha County - - diversions of water that are likely to help economic development and jobs also flow westward across the subcontinental divide into Waukesha County.

The irony is not lost on Milwaukee officials and others who know that the study's crucial financing came involuntarily from Milwaukee County property owners with virtually no citizen input or awareness.

And here's another interesting connection to the end run that financed the regional water study.

As the water study moved forward, and was often described as a working model of regional cooperation, and with the Waukesha Water Utility's general manager among the water study's committee members - - lawyers working on contract for the Waukesha Water Utility twice confidentially approached Gov. Jim Doyle in 2006, in writing, to obtain special Lake Michigan diversion permissions.

These requests were not disclosed to the SEWRPC committee as it debated the ins and outs of a comprehensive regional water supply policy, and only came to light through a freelance writer's Open Records request.

Gov. Doyle did not approve the Waukesha requests. So that was an end run that failed, but it showed that Waukesha was willing to call the end run play, just as SEWRPC did to get its water supply study funded and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. successfully did to win favorable treatment on alternative power generation at the Joint Finance Committee in Madison.

Each time the end run play is called - - regardless of the outcome - - the power differential separating special interests and citizens' interests is highlighted, and open government - - by and for the people - - is the loser.

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