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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 20

Selling trout ponds is a bad idea

The state Department of Natural Resources is under orders from the Legislature to sell 10,000 acres of state-owned land. There's nothing wrong with selling off some state land that may have no significance, but DNR officials need to be very careful about the parcels they select.

They might want to avoid, for example, ecologically significant spring ponds with native brook trout populations, the sale of which would anger not only ecologists but anglers who make up a a healthy portion of the state's recreational and tourist trade.

Oh, wait, too late.

The DNR recently released a list of 118 parcels, covering approximately 8,300 acres, that it could sell to private parties or other units of government. Deadline for sale is June 30, 2017. Among those 118 parcels are 13 properties in Langlade County that contain small ponds that sustain the brook trout populations as well as neighboring streams, rivers and lakes, the Journal Sentinel reported this week.

To be sure, no deals are done yet. The DNR is only in the opening stages of its land auctioning: Doug Haag, deputy bureau director in charge of land sales and acquisitions, told Journal Sentinel reporter Lee Bergquist that the properties must still be reviewed by DNR field staff, including fisheries experts.

Haag also said that some fisheries staff already have raised objections to selling land where ponds are located. The Natural Resources Board will review the final list in December or January.

But the objections from the fisheries staff may not be as vociferous as those from some members of the public.

"Nobody knew about this," said Jim Hauer, a Trout Unlimited member from Allouez. "It's absolutely outrageous."

Hauer is worried that even if the land was sold to Langlade County, which Haag said was a possibility, county board members looking for a source of cash could turn around and sell the parcels to a bottling company or another party.

"These are some of the jewels," said John W. "Duke" Welter, of Viroqua, a former member of the Natural Resources Board who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, and a long-time active leader in Trout Unlimited.

"In each part of the state there are water resources that are the best in their area. As it happens, spring ponds in Langlade County are among the very best trout fishing you can find."

The problem for the DNR is that the Legislature has given it a thankless job. Clearly, putting these parcels of significant habitat on the market would be a mistake, and the DNR needs to be careful about what land is sold. But almost all state-owned land in Wisconsin is important to someone. Anglers, hunters, hikers, ATV users, bird-watchers and others could all be affected by the sale of one parcel or another.

While there may be some parcels that can be sold without significant loss to the state, the Legislature's directive seems to us to overreach and to put short-term gain above the long-term benefits of these very special places.


Wisconsin State Journal, Aug 16

Cop cameras could stem big payouts

What exactly happened just before Madison police Officer Stephen Heimsness fired three shots into Paul Heenan, killing the unarmed and intoxicated musician on the city's Near East Side three years ago?

A camera on the police officer could have gone a long way toward definitively answering that question.

Instead, the city just paid Heenan's family $2.3 million in a legal settlement, even though Madison police, the city attorney, district attorney and federal authorities contended Heimsness was justified in using deadly force.

Madison should stop stalling and equip its patrol officers with uniform cameras to bring more clarity and trust to police interactions with the public. A pair of controversial police shootings that left two young men dead in recent years show the need for better use of technology to deter, confirm or negate allegations of bad behavior on the part of police or the public.

A picture is worth a thousand words. And the moving pictures of high-tech video shot by cameras on police officer uniforms can show what really happens.

Other cities are ahead of Madison in adopting this technology. Other cities have experienced better behavior by police and the public when both parties know they're being filmed.

Madison's excuses for not progressing on the emotional and important issues of public safety and trust are many.

It's expensive, city officials say, to equip officers with cameras and to store and track the images. True. But so are multimillion-dollar legal settlements, public fear and distrust.

Cameras mounted on police uniforms are a threat to privacy, others contend. But those issues can be worked through. Not every officer and interaction must be filmed. And Wisconsin's open records law already allows for a balancing test before releasing video. The benefits to the public must outweigh the harm to individual privacy.

Madison police now collect video from dashboard cameras in police cars, and from cameras mounted at intersections and trouble spots Downtown. Putting cameras on patrol officers is a logical extension of what the city is already doing. The public deserves more information when people are killed.

No sooner had the Heenan family lawsuit been settled Tuesday than another lawsuit was filed Wednesday.

The family of Tony Robinson, fatally shot in March during a struggle with Madison police Officer Matt Kenny, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in court. The latest lawsuit contends Robinson was killed "without lawful justification" and "through an act of intentional homicide" by Kenny, whom Madison police and the district attorney have cleared of any wrongdoing.

Part of the family's case rests on a police car video that shows Kenny backing out of a stairway on the city's Near East Side and firing at Robinson.

But what happened before that? Kenny told investigators Robinson hit him in the head and kept swinging at the officer, making him fear he could be knocked unconscious by another blow or by a fall down the stairs, and then Robinson could take his gun. Robinson, who was on drugs and acting erratically, had previously attacked others outside the apartment, according to witnesses.

But what happened on the stairs? The family doesn't accept the officer's account.

A camera on the officer could have definitively filmed the encounter.

Stop stalling, Madison, and put cameras on city police.


Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, Aug 13

Tax cuts nice, but growth may not result

During a recent visit to the Leader-Telegram, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch said that the Republican state government leadership is striving to get Wisconsin out of the top 10 highest-taxed states.

That apparently already has happened. Dale Knapp with the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, using U.S. Census Bureau figures, said Wisconsin ranked 13th in 2011 and 12th in 2012 in total state and local taxes as a percentage of income.

The numbers for 2013 should be out in four to five months, Knapp said, and they may show a further drop as tax cuts passed in the 2013-15 state budget show up in the numbers. Knapp noted, however, that some other states also have cut taxes in recent years.

The Republican game plan is that lower taxes put more money in consumers' pockets. That in turn generates more spending, which creates more jobs and income tax revenues for the state. That means more prosperity for taxpayers and the government.

There are a couple problems with that game plan, Knapp warns. First, as baby boomers retire, not only do they spend less, but there aren't enough fellow Wisconsinites of working age to replace them. That means there's a need for an in-migration of workers here, "and that's difficult in a northern state," Knapp said.

Secondly, as online retailing continues to grow, money that used to be spent locally is now being sent to mammoth online retail operations such as Amazon, Knapp said.

Third, states by law must balance their budgets, but the federal government does not. So when federal taxes are cut or revenues fall, Congress simply borrows more money to keep the economy from slumping. State governments don't have that option.

For example, many people might use the additional money from tax cuts to build their retirement nest eggs rather than go out to eat, etc. Saving for retirement is a good idea, but it doesn't add jobs as public spending on roads or schools would do.

As a result of all this, Knapp said, "we're going to continue to have challenging budgets."

This is the dilemma faced by Gov. Scott Walker. He's banking that tax cuts will spur job growth. But as Knapp noted, other factors are in play.

Most won't argue with tax cuts, especially Walker's efforts that have resulted in lower property taxes. This is important to those retiring baby boomers who want to stay in their homes even as their incomes decline in a state known for high property taxes.

Even with Walker's tax-cutting efforts, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation ranked Wisconsin (in 2014) 44th out of the 50 states in "State Business Tax Climate." What are the top four states in that ranking? Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada and Alaska. Obviously, that ranking doesn't factor in the cost of moving goods to the rest of the country or beyond.

It also doesn't measure how many Wisconsinites would rather live in any of those places.

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