Monday, August 1, 2016

Wisconsin is corporate heaven; less so for the less-powerful

[Updated from May 21, 2016]:

Dairy interests given insider privileges in process - - public health rules watered down:
Responding to strong complaints from Wisconsin’s dairy industry, the state Department of Natural Resources quietly narrowed the scope of rules it is writing to reduce health hazards from hundreds of millions of gallons of manure spread on farm fields each year. 
An industry representative said the DNR’s initial plan for rule-making would have been much too costly, in part because it would have generally reduced the amount of manure that could be applied per acre, requiring dairy operators to obtain more land.

No one who saw the film "Field of Dreams" will forget that Kevin Costner says "It's Iowa" when asked by the ghost of his father if the lush, surrounding corn field is heaven.

I fully expect a Wisconsin trade association TV ad crew to rip off that conceit, ask a dairy operator with an industrial-scale milking herd the same question and get back the scripted and so-true response "this is heaven and Wisconsin." 

Why? Because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - - backed up by another corporate captive, the Wisconsin Attorney General - - has decided it doesn't have to guarantee drinking water quality near animal feeding operations whose thousands of animals may legally drain the groundwater away without regard for the cumulative impact on downstream waterways and multiple users' needs. 

Look to Walker and the GOP Legislators who never tire of carrying the corporate sector's water successfully lock down their out-in-the-open water resource privatization agenda later in 2016.
Not to mention that factory and farm owners have been basically relieved of paying Wisconsin state income taxes while manufacturing equipment in the state has long been exempted from taxation:
A measure tucked into Gov. Walker’s 2011 budget that effectively eliminated state income taxes on owners of factories and farms in Wisconsin is costing way more than predicted and contributing mightily to the current budget shortfalls.  
The Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit was hailed at the time as a job-creating effort that would let businesses invest the savings in new hires and equipment.  
But recent figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau show the credit will cost the state at least $275 million in additional lost tax collections over the next biennium, or more than double what was originally estimated….  
After the credit was included in the budget and signed by Gov. Walker, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce called it the "most exemplary public policy initiative in support of manufacturing in more than 35 years.” 
With the full windfall now coming to fruition:
Wisconsin’s sweeping tax credit that shields manufacturers and farmers from paying state income tax hits its apex this tax year following a three-year implementation plan of progressive rate hikes.
And that dreamy Wisconsin TV ad could be changed to show a power plant executive in front of the smokestack saying heavenly things about Wisconsin, since Walker and the Attorney General are fighting proposed federal clean air rules, and Walker appointees to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission have watered-down the Commission's public service mission by approving huge increases in rate-payers mandatory monthly charges (a poke in the eye also to solar customers) and awarding monopoly operators fat, 10% guaranteed profit margins.
Smoke stacks from a factory. 
Friday, May 27 update, italicized: 

Perhaps the ad could feature Menard's, whose chain of hardware and outdoors supply megastores has just received an environmental award nomination from a business trade association committee committee despite the firm's long record of fines for environmental violations, reports the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign:

A billionaire businessman who set consecutive records for the highest penalties ever paid for environmental violations in Wisconsin has been nominated for an environmental award from the state’s largest business group. 
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce says Menard Inc., which is founded and owned by John Menard Jr., is among 32 businesses nominated for WMC’s Business Friend of the Environment awards. Nine winners will be selected from among the nominees by a panel, which includes representatives from the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin... 
Both Menard and his company have paid about $3.9 million in fines over the past 20 years for violating environmental rules.
That's how large big money with friends in high places is allowed to live and prosper in Wisconsin these days.

*  Some of the big health-care institutions in the state are hauling in the big bucks, too, as it was recently reported that many medical services in Wisconsin cost 81% above the national average. My favorite line in this story:

A representative from the Wisconsin Hospital Association was not immediately available for comment.
* And don't forget that faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University separately have published data showing that to the extent there is job growth in Wisconsin the gain is in low-wage employment.

Meaning simply that if you own a business in Wisconsin, you can pay your employees peanuts.

A reality cemented by Walker's refusal to allow any increase in the rock-bottom minimum wage level of $7.25 an hour - - he's called the concept of a guaranteed minimum wage "lame" - - and by wage-depressing legislation he signed rolling back prevailing, family-supporting pay levels on public works projects, and across the board through a union-and-collective bargaining 'right-to-work' law he also signed and which, despite a lower court injunction, is likely to be upheld by the current Wisconsin Supreme Court whose elected conservative majority is especially beholden to major trade associations.

As you process the news that the conservative majority on the Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justices today validated Wrong-Way Walker's rollbacks of voting and collective bargaining rights - - and that several of the same Justices' campaigns were significantly funded by the WMC and other corporate special interests which also heavily back Walker - - do not forget that these same Justices let the WMC and the Realtors write for the Court a new ethics rule defining - - basically, never - - when recusals were in order by Judges and Justices to reduce conflicts-of-interest and enhance the appearance of fairness. 
Yes, you read that right.
And let's not forget that Walker created and chaired a quasi-public agency that threw millions of dollars in business loans and grants to favored recipients without adequate tracking and oversight - - and WEDC is still mired in scandal without helping Walker created more than 60% of the 250,000 new private-sector jobs he pledged to achieve in his first term - - but has created work for key industry and trade association insiders by naming them to top state government policy-making and senior administration positions, including:

Update: Information released on 5/27 shows that there has been so little oversight at the agency-cum corporate piggy bank that $400,000 in tax credit overpayments has been traced at less than 10% of the 222 companies receiving them which have been reviewed. 

*  The leadership team at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is still run by former home-builder Cathy Stepp. Atty. Matt Moroney, Stepp's long-time Deputy Secretary, is now a Walker staff policy aide; Before his state government work, Monroneyran the Metropolitan Builders Association of Southeast Wisconsin.

*  Pat Stevens, the current DNR bureau chief of air management, waste and some additional duties, had served with the Wisconsin Builders Association, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association. Some details about those who fulfilled Walker's pledge to install a "chamber of commerce mentality" atop the DNR is here.

*  Bob Seitz, a lobbyist for both Americans for Prosperity - - a Koch brothers advocacy group - - and GTac, the mining company which nearly succeeded through a company-influenced bill and law to carry out 35 years of open pit iron ore mining in the water rich Bad River watershed near key Native American rice-growing and other land - - is now the Executive Assistant to the chair of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

No wonder Charlie Pierce always throws into his Esquire pieces this description of Walker's takedown of Wisconsin:

Governor Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their Midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin...
* GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel hired in 2014 as his top aide a lobbyist who was representing Wal-Mart and a dozen additional businesses and trade associations.

In other words, the Walkerites have used law and policy and political power in Wisconsin - - this GOP/corporate control has been an under-covered, carefully crafted take-over operation - - to tilt benefits and access in a heavenly way towards big business and the executives who own them.


Anonymous said...

The change of the "scope" comments for Nr243 and 151 is a total sell out to big polluters. Read the entire article linked on Wheeler, you will think "slimy worm" for every quote from one of the dnrs biggest nothings Russ Rasmussen. What a pathetic worm from a pathetic agency.

my5cents said...

The Walker administration smacks of rampant chronic cronyism. No one else stands a chance, but then, that's what Walker and his benefactors have wanted all along. Wisconsin will be another Kansas or Louisiana by the time we get rid of Walker. I will never understand those who say Walker is doing a great job and Wisconsin is better off now than before.