Saturday, April 12, 2008

Great Lakes Compact Implementing Bill Relatively Weak

So here is the short version of what we know about the compromise bill most likely to pass at next week's legislative Special Session to implement the Great Lakes water management Compact in Wisconsin.

And a few additional thoughts about the legislative negotiations that produced the compromise and what it means for the larger political picture in Wisconsin.

In a nutshell, it will be a weaker bill than what the State Senate passed 26-6, on a bipartisan vote.

Assembly Republicans and Waukesha County members in both houses come away with what they are calling a big win.

That's because some mandatory water conservation requirements will be voluntary instead, some communities' water conservation planning could be delayed, and water diversion applications to heavily-Republican suburban communities have a better chance of approval.

Gov. Doyle, and Democrats in both houses, come away with something that it's hard to call a big win.

They get a bill, but a lesser product than what the Senate approved.

The partisan nature of the fight and the outcome cannot be denied.

If the Senate bill were to get an "B+," the bill likely to come out of the Special Session, with the overall stewardship of the Great Lakes and Wisconsin's opportunities in mind, is no better than a "C-."

Final thought.

Have the Democrats in the legislature who are thinking about supporting this agreement - - which has been enthusiastically embraced by GOP members in Waukesha County and the other fast growing 'burbs - - forgotten the results of the April 1st State Supreme Court election so soon?

Where a strong turnout in those 'burbs put Michael Gableman over the top to knock out Milwaukee-based Justice Louis Butler.

What do you think the effect will be on the population numbers and voting patterns in Waukesha County with an infusion of fresh Milwaukee water there?

Here's the core reality: Waukesha County votes 2:1 Republican.

The turnout is extremely high, year-in and year-out, and the County is a reliable base of solid political influence for the GOP and conservative causes that rivals what Dane County and Milwaukee County represent for Democrats and liberals.

So the more you enable residential population and business movement and relocation to Waukesha County, the more easily you help developers there turn farm fields into subdivisions, the more tax base you help those communities west of the Great Lakes basin get annexed, the more you Dems are diminishing effectiveness in Milwaukee, southeastern Wisconsin and the Capitol, too.

Along with water management, land use and developmenr, the Compact debate in Wisconsin is about political power, too.

Given the political environment surrounding the Compact legislation's evolution, I'd say:

Advantage, GOP.

A longer explanation about the Compact negotiation dynamics is here.


Jim Bouman said...

I'd call it a diversionary tactic.

I fully expect the compromise to convey about the Waukesha Water Utility the impression that they are in support of all the provisions of the Compact.

1. They will immediately press the issue with DNR, (Watchers of this agency should be warned that DNR is not above secret conniving with development interests around the subject of water resources).

2. They will attempt to get a diversion approved under existing WRDA standards. Part of their argument will be that they stand foursquare behind the Compact--especially because they will not have to meet the standards, since the Compact is still "in-process".

The return flow and conservation elements of the Compact clearly worry the Commissioners (and they should scare the daylights out of the rate-payers). But, this current "progress" on the Compact, what the late, great Ed Jackamonis used to call "dynamics-without-change," will serve to divert (that word again) attention from the real consequences, as everyone gets excited and congratulatory about this "victory".

If Waukesha gets access to Lake Michigan water, the existing rate-payers and tax-payers will bear the full and enormous cost of the infrastructure to get the water out here. We should assume the Utility will not plan for return flow; they'll assume they can finagle a way of putting partially treated sewage into the Rock and Fox Rivers--a little bit back to the lake and a whole lot out of the basin forever.

They are aiming to divert 22 million gallons per day (mgd) from the Lake. That is a lot more than the current 8mgd that Waukesha uses. That much additional water will eventually require upgrading and expansion of the Waukesha Sewage Treatment plant.

The payoff, according Commissioner (also Mayor) Larry Nelson, will be all of the new, not-yet-built, mostly hallucinated, subdivisions and tacky strip malls annexed to the city. That's a lot of new taxes for infrastructure: new schools, roads, police, fire, sewer, trash collection, new SCHOOLS, library, parks, forestry, paramedics, leaf pick-up... (did I mention NEW SCHOOLS?).

And, if those subdivisions don't materialize? If we have a long and painful economic downturn/depression? If the increase in tax base doesn't cover all of the costs?

Tough luck. It will merely be a minor miscalculation by developers and land speculators... and a huge on-going cost for the rate-payer/tax-payer.

This "compromise" is already beginning to stink.

James Rowen said...

What Jim Bouman and I are both arguing, from opposing sides of the subcontinental divide, is that the fiscal and developmental consequences of diverting Lake Michigan water do not help most taxpayers in Milwaukee or Waukesha.

The winners are developers, and some politicians.

Pretty distorted, don't you think?