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November 13, 2019

9/21/2019 7:30:00 AM
Under Evers, the accumulation of pain
Gregg Walker and Richard Moore
Publisher and Columnist

When it comes to brain injuries, it is said that the accumulation of small hits to the head are actually more damaging than concussions in causing neurodegenerative disease, and the same might be said of political and economic injury, that the accumulation of small slights can be more devastating to a region's prosperity than one major political assault.

If that's the case, northern Wisconsin is in deep trouble as long as Tony Evers is governor. For, while he hasn't been able to deliver a knockout blow to our head yet, his administration so far has used our region as a punching bag, popping us with focused punches, the accumulation of which could cause serious injury that will linger long after he is gone.

The trouble is, the lighter hits don't get as much public attention as the big ones, and so the governor has a chance to punish us with small smacks over the next three years and maybe more.

Let us look at the barrage of jabs that has already come our way.

Just this week, the governor announced the funding of 64.5 new assistant district attorney positions, and once again he slighted northern and rural Wisconsin in egregious fashion, so he could give more political goodies to his Democratic base.

For example, the county of Milwaukee will get three new positions, though a Legislative Audit Bureau workload assessment indicated that Milwaukee already has 115 percent of the positions it needs. Other Democratic areas scored well, too: La Crosse picked up two positions, as did Wood County.

And Dane County gets a new position, though its staffing rate is 85 percent, among the highest in the state.

Northern Wisconsin and rural areas aren't so lucky under the governor's plan. Oneida and Vilas counties get no new positions, though Oneida County's staffing rate is only 56 percent and Vilas County's is 70 percent.

It should be noted that, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau last May, the Oneida County district attorney did not request new position authority for some reason. Who knows why, but that should not have prevented the governor from providing staffing where staffing is needed.

The governor also took away positions the Legislature had recommended for Monroe and Manitowoc counties, which are staffed at 41% and 51% of need.

All totaled, according to Republican Rep. John Nygren, Evers vetoed the Legislature's county-by-county allocation for 35 of 65 new positions in the budget and instead allowed unelected bureaucrats to determine the distribution of new prosecutors.

Those prosecutors are not unimportant in rural and northern Wisconsin. While Milwaukee County may have a far higher crime rate, our region is struggling with heroin and methamphetamine epidemics. By ignoring the needs of all but the strongest Democratic strongholds, the governor is putting the public's health at risk.

His constant slaps to the North are not only endangering future prosperity but our very lives, as surely if he was a boxer punching our heads constantly.

The is just the latest example. When he first took office, the governor appointed an economic development advisory team that was loaded with Madison and Milwaukee viewpoints. During the budget process, he attempted to impose a gas tax that would have been devastating to the northern region.

His budget overall was a disaster to the Northwoods. Evers vetoed a $250,000 grant for Lakeland STAR School/Academy, biennial funding for FAB labs, which are critical in rural areas, and a Department of Workforce Development grant to Northcentral Technical College for workforce training in county jail facilities.

Also in the recent state budget debate, after legislative Republicans inserted a one-time $90 million appropriation into the budget specifically for local roads, Evers, through a partial veto, slashed the funding from $90 million to $75 million and removed language that restricted the use of the money.

While that shenanigan was later tempered somewhat, Evers's intention - as well as his other budget moves - was declarative of his contempt for northern and rural Wisconsin. As was his appointment of four people from Milwaukee to his administration's most important cabinet posts: the Department of Administration, the Department of Corrections, and, shockingly, the Department of Natural Resources and of Tourism.

During the last administration, we often criticized Gov. Scott Walker for not listening enough to the north and of channeling economic development dollars to southeastern Wisconsin. That criticism was well deserved.

By comparison, however, Scott Walker was benign and perhaps even benevolent next to Ever's head-jarring policies. At least Mr. Walker just mostly ignored us, while Evers is the boxer in the ring, throwing punches to our head every chance he gets.

Our northern and rural lawmakers are at least being vocal about this bias, to their credit, and that was no less the case after Evers's announcements about the assistant district attorney positions this week. The Legislature is trying to curb the worst of the excesses and biases, but a powerful governor is still able to inflict damage.

The criticism doesn't seem to phase the governor anyway. The only thing that seems to us to be a viable way to stop the pounding is the next election, and constant exposure of the bias between now and then.

It's not too soon to start preparing, if we can just bob and weave enough over the next three years.

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