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Views from around the state: Power plant bids are a must

One of the biggest and most obvious no-nos in government is to sell items or buy services without taking bids. We all know what happens, or what could happen: The government doesn’t get the best deal, which means taxpayers don’t.

In this time of budget constraints, the state should be especially striving for the best deals, which is why a provision in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill makes little sense. The bill would allow the state to sell one or more of its 15 power plants without taking bids. Legislators wisely amended the bill a bit to require a Joint Finance Committee review of any sale, but the amendment didn’t go far enough. The no-bid provision remains, which means the Public Service Commission would not review potential sales. It is the PSC that regulates utility monopolies and determines whether a project is in the public interest, and eliminating its expertise is not intelligent.

The power plants are hardly bargains. They’re old, and they’ve been under federal scrutiny for some time for potential violations of clean air rules. Any buyer would have to retrofit the plants to meet current pollution standards, although there would be a tax benefit.

What the plants do is provide heating and cooling at prisons and University of Wisconsin campuses. This is admittedly a captive market and therefore an almost guaranteed stream of revenue. But with the university system due for cuts, and pressure already on for campuses to control tuition cost, how will a private company make a profit?

That is what private industry is all about, of course, making a profit. Any buyer would have to be able to charge enough to pay for pollution retrofits and make a profit. This is why bidding is so important. Without it, a private buyer may get a sweetheart deal: paying well below market price for the plant, but then bumping rates way up to make a healthy profit. Taxpayers would foot the bill for this private profit — perhaps for years and years.

This part of the budget repair bill should be either stripped out or modified. Either the plants should be sold by bid with careful attention to long-term costs — and the PSC should bring its skills to the process — or the idea should be dropped. Doing less is a disservice to the people who expect frugality from the current administration in Madison.

The Journal Times, Racine

Recall organizers have
right to use public space

As the drama surrounding Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill has continued, we’ve seen numerous examples of democracy in action, from here to Madison and across the state.

The Capitol protests have been the most visible instances, garnering national and even worldwide attention as protesters by the tens of thousands have made themselves heard. Closer to home, they’ve held gatherings in front of schools and courthouses, as demonstrators verbalize dissent vociferously but peacefully.

Recently, we’ve witnessed citizens mobilizing in yet another way, circulating recall petitions for state Senators including Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and Rob Cowles, R-Allouez. A group dedicated to ousting Hansen has set up shop in Green Bay City Hall, angering some who say that’s not the place for organizers to work.

We understand their concerns, but we are compelled to side with those organizing the petition in this case. Some may perceive what they’re doing as divisive and even distasteful, but the fact remains that City Hall is a public space — and as long as activists are acting legally and without disrupting city business, they have every right to stay and be heard. Should those attempting to recall Cowles wish to use the space as well, they would be equally welcome to do so. Green Bay aldermen are divided on the issue, but the city has said petitioners can stay.

Not everyone, however, is taking the approach of Green Bay city officials. While Oconto Mayor Thomas Fulton decided to allow a recall group to use City Hall for similar purposes, Marinette Mayor Robert Harbick has refused to let a group there do likewise, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported. Harbick cited concerns about disruptions at the municipal building, saying he doesn’t want a scene similar to that at the Capitol.

“We have to use common sense,” he said. “Turning this place into a mess? You can’t take the chance.”

We respectfully disagree. Preemptively stifling civic engagement and discussion in a public place because of what might happen makes little sense. Should problems occur, we are confident city officials — and if necessary, law enforcement — would be more than equipped to handle the issue.

Peaceful, lawful protests and other examples of civic discourse should be allowed and encouraged here just as they are in Madison — regardless of what anyone may think about protestors’ or organizers’ goals, objectives or opinions.

Overall, we have been pleased with how people have conducted themselves on a local level — whether protesting peacefully at the courthouse, silently outside a school, or otherwise expressing themselves through civic action or words. Many also have gone to Madison.

We know there are exceptions, but our local protests and other actions generally have been indicative of the type of civil discourse we like to see in a free society. We are fortunate to have the ability to peaceably assemble, and we should never take it for granted.

Green Bay Press Gazette

Walker spreads myth of former
governor’s conservative spending

Gov. Scott Walker is obviously a big fan of former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Walker evoked images of Thompson in his inauguration speech and during his recent budget address.

This is what he said:

“Back in the 1980s — when I was growing up in the small town of Delavan — we faced similar circumstances in our state. A tough economy and a tight budget were the top issues 25 years ago.

“Tommy Thompson brought into office bold new ideas and strong leadership. At the time, defenders of the status quo took offense. But by the end of his first term, those reforms helped balance the budget and those policies helped the private sector create 258,000 new jobs. I remember Governor Thompson’s optimism and the excitement he created when we turned our state around back then. If we did it a generation ago, we can do it again today.”

Thompson did some innovative things as governor, including welfare reform, school choice and establishing BadgerCare for uninsured families. He deserves credit for helping break some of the cycle of welfare dependency.

But it’s time to bust the myth that Thompson was the paragon of conservatism on the platforms of less government and reduced spending.

In fact, the opposite is true.

State spending increased 118 percent under the Thompson administration from 1987 to 2001. Thompson did add jobs — state government employment rose 25 percent.

Those are hardly numbers that speak to conservative fiscal policies.

The 1990s were a time of economic prosperity in Wisconsin and in our nation. President Bill Clinton benefited from that boom as he balanced the budget. So did Thompson, who spent money as fast as it was coming in.

Governing is easy when increasing revenues flow in because of a healthy economy. It’s much more difficult during times of recession, as we know all too well. Spending was reduced slightly under former Gov. Scott McCallum, who took over during Thompson’s final term, from 2001-2003. And spending under Gov. Jim Doyle increased 15 percent through 2009 and about 10 percent in his last budget.

While Walker wants to reduce what the state spends on pensions, it was his hero and mentor Thompson who helped guide through a pension sweetener law in 1999 that gave all employees a 10 percent increase in the value of their pension and increased from 65 to 70 percent what employees could collect in pension payments from their final average salary.

During tougher economic times, a bipartisan Wisconsin Expenditure Commission appointed by Gov. Tony Earl recommended in 1985 that the government set spending and taxing levels in relation to national averages — a sharp deviation from our state’s history of taxing and spending above national averages. Those recommendations were ignored.

That was then and this is now. Wisconsin has virtually no rainy day fund, and we’ve continued to spend even during an economic downturn. There are plenty of past sinners to blame on both sides of the aisle.

Thompson may have created excitement and optimism, but the facts show Walker should be careful about conjuring up the economic policies of the 1990s as the pathway to prosperity in 2011.

La Crosse Tribune

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