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Everybody’s attention this week has been focused on the return of Congress, with Republicans firmly in control and Janesville’s Paul Ryan elected to his first full term as Speaker of the House.
We also have been paying attention to the continuing adventures of Donald Trump and his strange gang of supporters/nominations/friends/advisors and performers at his inauguration.
But a much more important gathering was held in Madison, where the Republicans in the Senate and Assembly celebrated their increased stranglehold on Wisconsin politics by smiling with glee over the prospect of being able to do just about anything they want.
I could make a pretty good case that, while national elections are sexy, it’s the state elections that have the most impact on our lives. Reince Priebus, the brilliant strategist who ran the Republican National Committee, realized that getting Republicans into office on the state level would be a perquisite to the national elections. How right he was.
So, with the tightly buttoned Republican legislature ready to work hand-in-hand with Governor Scott Walker (who is not going to be president by the way), what can we expect to head our way? It’s not all bad – even though most of it is.
Dem roads, dem roads, dem damn roads
The fund to pay for road construction all over Wisconsin is short about $1 billion.
This is not a good thing for the roads themselves – or for the people who build the roads, among the most powerful and influential lobbyists in the halls of the Capitol.
There are really only two ways to solve this problem: postpone some road building or raise money to pay for the roads.
The Department of Transportation has proposed halting or postponing work on some projects in order to eliminate the shortfall. A number of key lawmakers have also suggested increases in licensing fees and/or vehicle taxes in order to raise the money. Walker has said he will veto any such increases unless there is a corresponding tax decrease somewhere else.
My prediction is that we are going to get a license fee increase, and the legislature will provide some tax breaks – mainly to wealthy people and corporations – to offset the number of dollars raised by the increased fees.
Our schools: Money, vouchers and guns
The formula by which the state shares revenue with local school districts is an ancient formula only slightly less complex than the computer systems needed to send the space shuttle hurling into the skies.
Nobody knows everything that’s in the formula, and for decades, there have been some suggestions to come up with some kind of formula that takes into account the relative poverty of some districts.
There is some talk about developing a new formula, but while the will may be there, the way to do it is full of so many different opinions that it’s doubtful that anything meaningful will result. This should be all talk, no action.
There will be action, however, in the increase in funding to expand Wisconsin’s voucher program, whereby public dollars flow to private schools. It’s an experiment that has no record of meeting its original goals, but people from Donald Trump to your local nun all think it’s a great thing.
More and more money will flow away from financially-strapped public school districts in order to give these private schools the ability to enroll more students.
Finally, and in critical educational news, a state representative from Kewaskum named Jesse Kremer is going to push his bill to allow people who have concealed carry permits to concealed carry on college campuses as well as high schools and elementary schools in the state.
The great outdoors
For over a century, the Department of Natural Resources has protected the natural environment and managed recreational opportunities in our lands. Back in 2010 when Walker became governor, he said he wanted a new DNR chief who had a "chamber of commerce mentality." He got it with Cathy Stepp, who used to manage a McDonald’s in Racine. Now he wants to split the entire department up into two departments. One would deal with all those pesky environmental regulations that are designed to keep businesses from killing all the land in the state. The other one would manage hunting, fishing and some other recreational activities which, by the way, are also in line for fee increases.
These are not, of course, the only crazy ideas that are going to get shoved down the throat of unsuspecting Wisconsin citizens. The pitiful Democrats in both houses may try to raise voices in opposition, but it will be like spitting on Superman’s cape.
Nothing they say will matter.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.