Wisconsin “Reforms” and More Ties That Bind: The Perils of Political Payback and One Party Rule

Prius alone in a sea of cronyism and political payback. Driving this car may cost you an additional $50 per year in Wisconsin.
Prius alone in a sea of cronyism and political payback. Driving this car may cost you an additional $50 per year in Wisconsin.

In the two weeks since Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, and his GOP allies were reelected the perils of one party rule and hypocrisy have reared their ugly heads in a big way. In addition to more attacks on the poor and unemployed along with threats of withholding aid for political opponents, the Walker Administration’s political appointee head of the Department of Transportation last Friday introduced a massive tax and spend proposal to fund that agency’s agenda. In addition to massive increases in the gasoline tax, the proposal seeks to penalize owners of hybrid and electric vehicles by charging them an additional $50 per year. 

The proposal includes the new vehicle tax and gas taxes, as well as a $50 increase in the annual registration fee for fuel-efficient hybrid or electric vehicles. That means while regular gas vehicle owners would continue to pay a $75 annual fee, the nearly 48,000 hybrid and electric vehicle owners in the state would pay $125. The number of such vehicles is up more than tenfold from 2005.

Some environmentalists reacted strongly to the proposed increase in annual registration fees on hybrid/electric vehicles, which five other states — Washington, Colorado, Nebraska, Virginia and North Carolina — have passed. Virginia lawmakers voted to repeal its $64 fee on hybrid vehicles earlier this year amid an uproar from drivers.

“The proposed fee discourages innovation and punishes consumers who are trying to do the right thing by investing in cars and trucks that benefit everyone by cleaning up our air, reducing greenhouse gases, and reducing Wisconsin’s dependence on oil,” said Shahla Werner, director of the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

During the last budget cycle the Walker administration made sure to reward his supporters by lowering the cost for a wolf killing license to $49 from the previous $100 license fee. This budget cycle his administration appears to be going out of their way to slap a punitive fee on those attempting to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle by purchasing fuel efficient vehicles. So why would a supposed “fiscal conservative” be so willing to slap additional taxes and fees on Wisconsin citizens and how is this related to our wildlife?

Could it all be about political payback for campaign donors and Walker supporters? It also just so happens that extreme right wing and anti-wolf lobbyist, Bob Welch, coincidentally represents a major “engineers union.” Now why would an extreme right wing lobbyist represent a union, considering Walker’s rabid union busting policies? This just happens to be a road builders union that will benefit greatly should Walker’s tax and fee increase become reality. Welch is also the lobbyist for the extreme anti-wolf/wildlife groups, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Hunters Rights Coalition, Safari Club International, and the United States Sportsman’s Alliance. All of these groups hold significant sway over the Wisconsin DNR and one, the Hunters Rights Coalition, was founded by former state SCI president, Greg Kazmierski. Kazmierski, a former Scott Walker campaign advisor, now sits on the state Natural Resources Board ensuring that the Welch lobbied extreme hunting groups have complete and total control of wildlife policy from the top down. This didn’t just happen overnight as this document shows.

Bob Welch just happens to be always directly involved or on the peripheral of many, if not all, of the major proposals and paybacks coming from the Walker Administration. Still not convinced? Then we have this:

Wisconsin state officials on Monday will release those who submitted proposals for redevelopment of the Hill Farms state property, along with a list of finalists for what is the largest public sector real estate project in Wisconsin since Miller Park.

The Walker administration has been seeking a private developer to purchase the Hill Farms site and construct a $197 million, 600,000-square-foot office complex with 2,500 parking spaces to replace the current Wisconsin Department of Transportation building.

The state would then own the building, but a private entity would hold the balance of the 21-acre site off Sheboygan Avenue on Madison’s west side.

The Department of Administration on Oct. 13 quietly posted a request for proposals for the project, with interested parties required to take a tour of the site on Oct. 17. The Capital Times asked for the names of those who took the tour but DOA chief legal counsel Gregory Murray denied the open records request, saying it would jeopardize the state’s negotiating position.

So why is this an issue?

At least one prominent Wisconsin real estate developer made a contribution to Walker in the days between the release of the Hill Farms RFP on Oct. 13 and the Nov. 4 election. Records show that Terrence Wall of Madison gave $9,975 to the Friends of Scott Walker on Oct. 25.

Wall had briefly sought the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2010. Last year, he wrote a letter to the DOA saying he was interested in buying Hill Farms or other properties from the state if and when they were made available.

Who happens to be the lobbyist for T Wall Properties, now known as “Vanta?” You guessed it. None other than Bob Welch. While Wall was ousted from the company he started in 2012, he is still a player in developing properties in Wisconsin. It is now known yet if Vanta submitted a proposal to develop the Hill Farms property, but Terrence Wall not only contributed to Walker’s campaign, he was also a contributor to Bob Welch’s failed U.S. Senate campaign in 2004. Funny how Welch just seems to have his name tied to almost every political payback scheme over the past four years, isn’t it? Even when he isn’t directly involved he is in the peripheral as seen with the ties between the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association and the Koch Brothers front group “United Sportsmen” in 2013 and the scandal that followed. Why does the mainstream media not see this and ask more questions about the ties between Governor Walker and Bob Welch? Isn’t it obvious that these links are more than coincidental?

But what do I know? I am just a Prius driving wildlife advocate that continues to suffer the consequences of one party rule and political cronyism and will be $50 poorer. Anyone else think it is time for the media to take a closer look at the cozy relationship between Walker and the groups Bob Welch lobbies for? I also noticed something else very interesting on Welch’s client list. Welch is the lobbyist for the private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America. Currently private prisons are not legal to operate in Wisconsin. Now what are the chances that this law will soon change? You think that maybe the media should take a little closer look at the groups Welch lobbies for to get an idea of other “reforms” coming our way in Wisconsin? Maybe? Hint, hint.

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