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The Wisconsin Department of Transportation thinks you’re dumb. Really dumb.
Worse, they want you to pay a lot of money for the privilege of being called dumb by them.
Actually, you already paid for it. You paid almost $350,000 for an advertising campaign that tells you to drive slow in roundabouts.
More than $100,000 of that money went toward two YouTube videos that must be seen to be believed. My 9-year-old could have made them. (The news of the Roundabout Spending Spree was broken by the Wisconsin Reporter, a conservative leaning site.)
Basically, the videos involve things like people pushing matchbox cars around a spinning record album, and goofy-looking people walking around a fake roundabout inside painted wooden cars. One guy is even standing in a wooden semi strapped around his shoulders.
Yes, you read that right. Your government made you pay for a YouTube video of people walking around in circles with wooden cars around their waists.
Imagine an "SNL" video about the DOT’s YouTube videos. That’s how dumb they are. Actually, "SNL" already did something like that. It involved Justin Timberlake and a Christmas present.
"Take it slow, take it slow, take it slow! When we see a roundabout, take it slow..!" sings a man in the first DOT YouTube video.
We’re also told to remember "four simple things." One of them is, you got it: Take it slow! "Take a breath, take it easy and take it slow." Pick the correct lane, too. (Really? Thanks DOT. I couldn’t figure that out). Check out the traffic signs (thanks again.) "In general, pick the left lane if you are going left."
I thought I was going to pick the right lane to go left. Don’t pass in a roundabout, we’re also told. Seriously? They think people pass in roundabouts?
DOT officials who confirmed the information told the Wisconsin Reporter site that the cash comes from a federal and state fund that’s supposed to be used for the U.S. 41 highway project. And you thought all that money was going to the road builders. Actually, that’s a billion-dollar project. Yes, you read that right. BILLION. I wish people were as up in arms over that kind of spending – and this – as they are about trolleys or the UW’s cash reserves.
Originally the DOT bureaucrats underestimated the price of the YouTube videos but then admitted they shelled out more than 100K for the two spots alone. The rest of the spending comes from additional advertising in the DOT’s roundabout campaign. Yes, there is actually a DOT roundabout campaign.
What’s the deeper lesson here? Well, maybe people should start scrutinizing the DOT’s massive budget requests a little more. That’s obvious.
I don’t want to hear any more Republican whining about how middle class public workers are making too much money when the DOT can shell out $350,000 for moronic YouTube videos (and other advertising) to tell us something we already know. That money would have paid the salaries for a year for about seven teachers. Or seven cops, if you don’t like teachers for some weird reason.
I also don’t want to hear Democrats whining about how mean the Republicans are when they start talking about cutting the budget and slashing spending. Let’s start with the DOT budget. Line-by-line. But – wait. The DOT is an agency in a Republican administration run by a former Republican legislator, Mark Gottlieb. So that’s where the buck stops now. We expect better. There’s a big projected budget shortfall after all. I want the Republicans to live up to their rhetoric about being good managers of the fiscal store.
We don’t have money for this stuff. That’s the bottom line. And this comes after the DOT had the audacity to request a $750 million budget increase recently that involves hiking up taxes and fees!
The other bigger lesson here involves the decline of major media resources. An ideologically leaning source broke this story, but where was the rest of the non-ideological media? Silly spending habits aren’t exactly partisan. Or shouldn’t be. Follow the money is a pretty famous journalistic axiom. But who’s following the money these days?
The Scripps takeover hasn’t turned out to be the "great thing" that people down at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tried to make us believe when it first happened. Since that time, the paper has lost its editor, lost a bunch of its reporters, and lost a big chunk of its editorial page.
This is bad. A decline in media resources means fewer people around to tell us what government is really doing. It means that fewer people are taking the time to analyze state agency budgets. Fewer people are sitting at City Hall or attending local school board meetings and then writing about what’s happening at those. There’s a glut of opinion in this state (yeah, you’re reading some of it) but fewer people actually gathering the news. In the old days, one would hope anyway, a major state agency wouldn’t be able to create goofy YouTube videos, which are out there for all to see on the Internet, without some ink-stained reporter asking, "how much did that cost?"
Pretty soon the rest of us won’t have any news left to bloviate about.
Back to the DOT. What’s next? YouTube videos that instruct us that we need to stop when stoplights turn red? How about a series of advertisements to inform us that green means go. Or that you shouldn’t pass on a solid yellow line.
Roundabouts aren’t that tricky. You want to see tricky? Go to a foreign country and try to navigate a roundabout while driving on the other side of road. That happened to me in Ireland (we’re way behind Europe in the roundabout thing. Even DOT admits that. Roundabouts have only been built in the U.S. since 1990, and there are only about a thousand nationwide and not in every state, according to DOT. In contrast, France has 20,000.)
But here? Piece of cake. I don’t need some guy wearing a painted wooden car around his waist to show me how to do it.
And, neither, I am sure, do you.
Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.
She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.
Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including Patch.com, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and Wispolitics.com. She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media Milwaukee.com, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.
Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.