Sept. 5, 2002
It’s hard to figure exactly what the Sierra Club and 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin were thinking last week when they took the state’s road builders to task for campaign contributions.
The environmental groups held a press conference, issued press releases and generally made a big scene over what they perceive as a link between major road projects and road builders’ campaign funding for gubernatorial candidates. The groups claimed that between 1996 and 2002, road builders gave Gov. Scott McCallum, Attorney General Jim Doyle and other major candidates $267,000.
The groups further claim that somehow, that chunk of money — distributed to several candidates over six years — led to an $11 billion boost in state road spending. That’s like saying that the $2,050 that the Sierra Club gave to Doyle over the last six years will somehow lead to about an $84 million boost in state environmental spending if Doyle gets elected.
The proportions are the same, but politics don’t follow the rules of mathematics. There are countless other factors that come into play between the actual campaign contribution and the state pulling the trigger on multimillion dollar policy initiatives or projects.
In other words, the Sierra Club and 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin, as the basis for their "Concrete Kickback" attack on road builders, made an unacceptable and irrational leap in logic. Call us crazy, but it seems like a transparent attempt to bad-mouth the road-building industry.
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And that points out another strange tactic in this "Concrete Kickback" campaign. Somehow, the environmental groups see the road builders as the culprits in the alleged boost in road spending.
David Cieslewicz, executive director of 1,000 Friends, said McCallum "never tells road builders to live within their means." What does that even mean? Should road builders scale back on their campaign contributions so the governor doesn’t feel the pressure to expand the road budget?
Road budgets, campaign contributions and theories on how funding translates into policy are really beside the point because the Sierra Club and 1,000 Friends submarined themselves by exhibiting a tremendous lack of understanding — or a calculated misinterpretation of the facts — when it comes to the actual projects they were discussing.
The groups claimed that the $6.25 billion proposal for the reconstruction of the freeway system in southeast Wisconsin will bury the state Department of Transportation by adding to the $5 billion debt it will face by 2020. In fact, that project was included in WisDOT’s forecast.
The groups also argued that they support safety improvements to the freeway system. The cost of a safety upgrade to that same system would run $5.5 billion, but when asked if he would support the safety upgrade, Cieslewicz said that only when discussing transportation funding would "$800 million be considered a small amount of money."
That’s not an answer, but then again, it’s hard to hit your target when you’re taking a swing in the dark.