In his bid to win the state Senate District 12 seat on Nov. 6, Republican nominee and state Rep. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst is pointing to what he calls a solid track record of reform in his two years in the Assembly, which he says has put the state on the right track to prosperity.
"In 2010, I made three commitments to the voters, to pass a legitimately balanced budget, so we don't have to raise taxes, and reform the Department of Natural Resources," Tiffany told The Lakeland Times in a recent interview. "We've accomplished all three of those to a certain extent."
Now, he says, with the state pointed in the right direction, there's still more work to do to get to the goal.
"We need to continue to pass legitimately balanced budgets," Tiffany said. "We went from bonding in this state from about $5 billion 10 years ago to where it's about $13 billion. We still have a significant overhang, even though we're showing in this budget that we have a small surplus. In context, it's a small surplus in terms of the debt that this state carries. So, we need to continue to pass legitimately balanced budgets so we don't have to raise taxes."
In addition to not raising taxes, Tiffany wants to pursue tax relief.
"Hopefully we can get the budget in such a shape that we can accomplish that," he said. "But I think we build on those things and have additional tax and regulatory reform. The business climate has gotten better in Wisconsin. We can do better yet, and we legislators really need to do the hard work of making changes to existing law and rule to enhance the business climate here in the state of Wisconsin, and I think we can do that."
If all that is done, he says, and is accompanied by changes at the federal level, especially in terms of utilizing natural resources, in energy policy, and in forest and mineral wealth, the state will be in excellent shape,
"I think Wisconsin is poised to take off," Tiffany said.
With many experts predicting a global recession next year, and with conflicting reports about the U.S. economy dominating headlines, Tiffany said a pro-growth economy was important, and he outlined the foundation of such an economy.
"I thought the first thing that we needed to start with was to have a balanced budget, and that's why I made it number one on my list in 2010 when running for election to the state Assembly, and it appears we're accomplishing that," he said. "The latest numbers from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows us running a slight surplus at this point. So, you have to start by having your budget in balance, because if you're running deficits, today's deficits become tomorrow's tax increases, and we cannot be raising taxes on people in this economy, or, I would say, in any economy."
Leaving more money in people's pockets is going to encourage economic growth, Tiffany said. Nonetheless, he added, accelerating job growth in the state depends not only on state budget reform but on lifting or ameliorating federal policies that inhibit job creation.
"Whether you're talking about Obamacare (or other policies), there's a lot of employers that are very fearful of hiring additional people," Tiffany said. "You look at the federal energy policy that we have. You look at the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest here with the policies that have come down from the U.S. Forest Service limiting harvest, literally hundreds if not thousands of jobs lying on the forest floor here in northern Wisconsin.... It will require additional reforms, though, both at the state and federal levels."
If possible, Tiffany said, he would like to see tax cuts in the next budget.
"I'd like to see what the budget numbers look like after, you know, as we get further into this biennial budget, and if it shows that we can decrease taxes on people, I'll be fully supportive of that," he said. "I just saw a survey from the Tax Foundation that we're ranked 43rd in the country, so we're certainly in the top 10 (highest-taxed states) yet, and I'd sure like to see us get out of the top 10 tax states here in the United States."
Tax reductions could also become more likely with continued efforts to cut government spending, he said.
"We need to go into the state agencies and make sure that the money that is being spent in Madison is being spent wisely," Tiffany said. "We've got a 60, what is it, about a $60-billion biennial budget. There's certainly plenty of money in Madison to be able to deliver the services that the people in the state of Wisconsin expect, and we definitely need to root out waste and fraud. It is a problem in a number of programs. We need to do a better job of that."
Tiffany was noncommittal on abolishing the state income tax, saying he would wait for the report of a legislative study committee now looking into such a proposition.
"I want to see the results of the study that come out and see what options we have, how we would accomplish that," he said. "Any tax that we can reduce, if we can do that, I favor leaving more money in people's pockets. We also have to balance the budget, and I want to see how that fits in the context of the budget."
Deregulation and rule reform
Tiffany said deregulation would remain one of his top priorities if he is elected.
"I think one of the key issues going into this next session of the Legislature is to streamline regulation," he said. "I think there's not a lot of argument about, oftentimes, about the standards that are in place, it's how we accomplish that. And that's one of the things that we tried to do with the chapter 30 (navigable waters) changes. You know, where the Department of Natural Resources has 30 days to give someone an answer. That's what we're looking for, is greater certainty by someone that's an applicant that they're going to get an answer, and they're going to get it promptly. I think that's something that we need to follow through in both the governor's office but also in the Legislature to make sure that these processes are streamlined, where we uphold the strong standards that we have here in Wisconsin and we want to keep, but they're done in a more timely fashion."
Reform of administrative rules is also important, Tiffany said.
"The Administrative Rule Reform bill (Act 21), of which I was sole author in the state Legislature, the special session bill that the governor called for, I think that's a bill that we have to make sure is implemented properly by the agencies, because it requires full economic analysis on all administrative rules, and we need the agencies to follow through with that."
There have been instances, he said, when agencies would conduct a review and claim there would be no cost to the people, when it fact the review was flawed. He cited the rewrite of NR115, the shoreland zoning rule, as an example.
"Act 21 is a very powerful tool for business, for local units of government, and utilities," Tiffany said. "We stated that right in there, in Act 21, that all of those entities need to be considered when they're doing this economic analysis. One of the messages I'm going to take to the people of northern Wisconsin if elected to the State Senate is to talk to these local units of government, talk to businesses, and say...you need to really watch these administrative rules and give your input into the cost of an administrative rule change, because Act 21 gives you the ability to do that."
Following Act 21, Tiffany said he wants to see the Legislature take a more active role in reviewing proposed administrative rules.
"I think we needed to put (Act 21) in place to begin with, and now I'm going to take a look at seeing if we can get the support within the Legislature for us to be more active, the Legislature being more active in reviewing administrative rules, and I sure hope it happens at the federal level, because they desperately need it at the federal level," he said.
Tiffany said it was a problem when agencies act as the Legislature.
"We really have to come back to that proper checks and balances, both at the state level and the federal level," he said. "We're elected for a reason, and we need to make sure that we're the law-writing body, not the agencies."
Tiffany supported a Republican iron mining bill last year that was defeated, and he said he continues to support iron mining in northeastern Wisconsin.
"Well, what I would like to see is for that iron mining bill that we debated and that lost by one vote in the state Senate, and it's part of the reason why I ran for this seat, is I would like to see that come back here in 2013," he said. "I mean, there is very good reason to separate iron ore mining out of our existing mining statutes. Current mining statutes cover all types of mining. Iron mining is fundamentally different. It uses a mechanical process versus a chemical process, and so there is very good reason to separate that out."
Tiffany said he's also hopeful a bill will be passed in 2013.
"It is rare that you get a company that is willing to invest $1.5 billion," he said of Gogebic Taconite's planned investment last year. "I mean, it's a once in a generation opportunity. And we can do this safely. The bill that we had this past session just combined good strong environmental protection. You know, once again, we weren't going to sacrifice environmental standards, we were just going to have an appropriate permitting process so that the applicant has certainty, so that they know they're going to get an answer."
Can the Senate get an iron mining bill passed? Tiffany thinks so.
"I believe that we can come to an agreement to get this done," he said. "Now, quite honestly, it hinges on how many votes do we have in the state Senate? I believe the Assembly is there. I mean, we showed that in this past session when that bill passed. What was it, like 59 to 39, something like that in the Assembly, and it lost by one vote in the Senate. It's quite clear we're going to need to get to 18 votes in the state Senate in order to be able to pass that. I really think that's the next step in advancing mining here in Wisconsin. I really think that iron ore mining is fundamentally different than sulfide mining. We should be able to do this."
But Tiffany said an alternative bill authored by state Sens. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Robert Jauch would not be acceptable because it retained a longer-than-necessary permitting timeline.
"I'm not sure you're going to see any applications when you've got a four-to-five year permitting process," Tiffany said. "I thought the Ironwood newspaper said it very clearly about Sen. Jauch in his bill, when they said he is the chief obstructionist. Now, that's the Ironwood Daily Globe's words, not mine. They called him the chief obstructionist. I mean, it's very clear that they do not, they have not combined the certainty in the permitting process that's needed to get an answer for a company."
Tiffany said mining applicants for the project, or similar ones, would have to pony up in the neighborhood of $25-$30 million before they would receive any benefit.
"There's huge upfront cost to this," he said. "All they're asking for is certainty, and they should be able to get it. You know, and I just think that, you know, for your listeners and readers out there, you look at...they did this for decades up in the Ironwood-Hurley area without the environmental protections that we have now. Go look at those tailings piles right next to the Montreal River. They're right on the banks of the Montreal River. The Montreal River is in great shape. You look at Lake Wazee down in Black River Falls. You know, they had that Jackson County mine down there. They've made that into a park now. It's a scuba diving mecca in the Midwest. Scuba divers go there all the time. It's the deepest lake now in the state of Wisconsin, about 400 feet deep, and it has crystal clear water in it. That's before we had the strong environmental protections we have."
So the bottom line is, Tiffany said, mining is doable, and it dovetails into a broader issue: Are we going to utilize our natural resources in an environmentally sound manner, or not?
"Because what was very evident when we were debating this issue earlier this year, is that the environmental left has control of the Democratic Party at this point," Tiffany said. "When I have blue collar Democrats coming to me, including people in leadership and their unions, expressing disgust that that bill did not pass, it's clear that the environmental left, they own the party at this point, and it's very unfortunate, and you're seeing that across the country. It doesn't matter whether it's the Keystone pipeline, whatever the issue is, when it comes to natural resources, unless it's on private land, you're not able to access it because they refuse to allow it, and that's where our prosperity is tied up in this country."
In another related issue, Tiffany says federal forest lands should be locally managed because the federal government is not managing them properly.
"It became very evident (in my last Senate run) talking to local people up here that the lack of harvests on our national forest lands are really costing us," he said. "Best example is, go up to Action Floors in Mercer. Quite a number of people that work there live in the 12th Senate District, in places like Arbor Vitae, Manitowish Waters. They employ about 100 people. In 1988, they located there because they knew they'd have a secure source of hardwood to be able to produce the high-end flooring that they produce, and...very successful company."
Now, Tiffany said, the company imports 40 percent of its wood from Canada.
"Forty percent comes from Canada, while you have twice as much mortality on the national forest lands as there is harvest," he said. "I mean, it's ridiculous. It is a travesty that this is going on. So, what we proposed, since the United States Forest Service and their leadership in Washington, D.C., refuse to manage this properly, then what we proposed, and when I say we, I mean Sen. Tom Casperson from the Upper Peninsula and I, who have done a couple hearings on this, who've really been trying to advance this issue in terms of consciousness with the public."
The two propose that a pilot project be set up by the federal government allowing counties in Wisconsin and Michigan to be able to manage these national forest lands on a pilot basis for about 10 years.
"And let's compare then who manages these better, who manages them better for multiple use," Tiffany said. "Because right now, they are not being managed properly, and it's costing us dearly in northern Wisconsin."
Tiffany says he supports Act 10 collective bargaining reforms passed last year and would vote the same way - for them - if court decisions force the Legislature to reconsider the law, or portions of it.
"Once again, it's unfortunate (about the latest court decision blocking the law)," he said. "We've talked about agency people who believe that they're the Legislature sometimes. Here we have a Dane County judge who believes he's the Legislature, and it's very unfortunate."
Tiffany said Act 10 reforms had clearly worked.
"If you look at the Assembly District that I represent, Tomahawk saved a half- million dollars on their health insurance, and that's a pretty interesting story," he said. "Tomahawk refinanced their long-term bonding for their school. As a result of the Act 10 changes, they were able to save $500,000 on health insurance for their employees, and they added that to another $200,000 out of their budget and went back and renegotiated their bonds for the next 10 years. They're saving $200,000 a year as a result of that renegotiation of their bonds, and they were able to do that by showing that they have their budget in order."
And, Tiffany said, savings were occurring across the state, especially on health insurance.
"Now that you've got competitive bidding going on out there, it's made a big difference across the state of Wisconsin, saved the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars," he said. "And I would point you over also to local newspapers, other than yours, that have done articles on this, like the Three Lakes and Northland Pines school districts, and their administrators are talking about how this has really given us the flexibility to manage our operations as we choose to and as we best know how to. And you're going to see property tax reductions in those two school districts as a result of the Act 10 changes, and this would not have happened without the Act 10 changes."
There are benefits beyond just the savings, Tiffany said.
"It's also allowing our local units of government to manage their enterprises as they best know how to," he said. "Their hands aren't tied the way they used to be.
Tiffany did not say whether he would support going beyond reforms for public sector unions to embrace Right-to-Work laws, but he did make clear it was not at the top of his list in any case.
"I think there's some work to be done in regard to that to let the public know what that (Right to Work) means," he said. "So, I think there's education that needs to be done with the public in regard to that issue before we take it out. I would say this, also, that I think there are higher priorities at this point in terms of reforms of state government than Right to Work at this point. I think there's things that are more immediate that we can accomplish in terms of fiscal responsibility, regulatory reform, that can be done that are immediate that need to be dealt with."
Civil service reform, guns
Tiffany said there might be some need to reform the state's civil-service system, which critics say protect partisan activists who purse their own agendas.
"I have to get more information on all the details of how our civil service system is set up in Wisconsin," he said. "I'm certainly familiar with it generally speaking. Yes, it may need some reforms. What those are, I can't say at this point, but I do think that there are some reforms that are needed."
Tiffany said it is already helpful that agencies are instituting merit-pay systems, and he said there needs to be a cultural change in the entire system.
"It's not just the Department of Natural Resources, either," Tiffany said. "It's very much cultural in Madison, and we have to change the culture of our agencies and how they interact with the people in the state of Wisconsin, the people they serve. Now, there are a lot of good civil servants out there, a lot of people that do a good, honest job, but there certainly are some bad actors, and we've got to figure out a way to make sure that those people who are not serving the people of the state of Wisconsin the way they should, they need to either reform how they're going about doing their jobs or they need to leave state government."
Tiffany said he is a longtime advocate for Second Amendment rights.
"I voted for concealed carry," he said. "I voted for Castle Doctrine. The gun case law I voted for. I voted for the sporting heritage bill, trying to get more young sportsmen involved with hunting, fishing, and trapping. I think my record is pretty clear, and I've always been very consistent on those issues, endorsed by the NRA going back to 2008, once again this year endorsed by them, but, more importantly, you know, I think the people of northern Wisconsin, hunters, fishers, trappers, they know where I stand on these issues, and I'm very supportive of them."
On open records, as he has in the past, Tiffany lauded his legislative office's open records policy - except for minor, nonbusiness emails his office keeps all open records - but once again the representative refused to commit to end the Legislature's exemption from the public records' retention law.
Republicans have refused to support legislation allowing them to dispense with public records any time they want. Tiffany said only that he would look into such a measure.
"I have an open records policy in my office," he said. "You can look at my records anytime. I'll take a look at it (ending the exemption) in 2013. I think, yeah, people care about that. There's an understanding in these offices that you have to be accountable for that stuff. What I'm doing is making a list of legislation that I'm considering introducing here in 2013, and set priorities - won't be able to get everything that I want - but I'll set priorities of the things that I want to see get done. I'll add this to the list that I'll consider."
Tiffany also addressed a case before the state Supreme Court in which the state Department of Natural Resources is seeking to extend its regulatory authority above the ordinary high water mark for the first time. He said he would consider legislative action if the high court grants such authority.
"We may have to take corrective action if that happens," he said. "Clearly, this is a violation of the Public Trust Doctrine. The Legislature granted that when? Decades ago. Clearly this exceeds navigability, and so it's exceeding what the Legislature intended."
Tiffany said assistant attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg, long an advocate for environmental activism, was handling the case for the state.
"She clearly is handling this improperly, and it has the ability to have a huge expansion into non-navigable areas, onto private property," he said. "This is the - what would you call it? - the mother lode for some of those folks in Madison who would love to have greater control over private property. It really opens the door and could have very harmful effects. Could have very harmful effects on economic development here in the state of Wisconsin, as they encroach further and further onto private property. So, I'm sure hopeful that the Supreme Court reverses the lower courts on this, but we'll see what they do."
The Hazelhurst lawmaker also addressed the U.S. Highway 51 reconstruction project and public unhappiness with the state Department of Transportation, saying reform was needed, and he again pointed to the culture of state bureaucracies.
"There are reforms that we need to do with all the state agencies," Tiffany said. "On my literature piece in 2010, I put reform of the Department of Natural Resources. I mean, it isn't just the Department of Natural Resources that we need to put additional reforms in place. But a lot of this is also cultural. We as a Legislature over the last few decades have, I think, been a bit passive. A bit passive in regard to overseeing the state agencies. We need to, both the governor's office and the Legislature, we need to be more aggressive in making sure they are carrying out the will of the people. That's one of the things in terms of an overarching principle that I'll follow through, if elected to the state Senate."
Finally, Tiffany said he supported legislation requiring a photo identification card to vote, as well as ending Election Day registration.
"It should be a priority to have voter ID, and the people across the state of Wisconsin agree with us on that, that in order to have fair and honest elections, that there should be photo ID," he said. "I mean, people are very supportive of that, and I will...if it's struck down (the law has been struck down in lower courts and is under appeal), then we need to rewrite it and make sure it gets put in place. And I do support ending same-day registration."
Tiffany said it all boiled down to accountability.
"Voting is a right, and as part of a right, we want to encourage every person possible to vote here in this state of Wisconsin, but they also need to cast an honest ballot," he said. "It goes back to taking responsibility for the liberties that we enjoy in this country. And, I think one of the fundamental responsibilities of a citizen is to prove that they actually can legally vote in that municipality in that state in which they reside."
Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Article comment by:
Thank you to the River News for posting interviews from multiple viewpoints in this race. It's nice to hear from more than just one candidate at the same time, so you can compare and contrast the differences in their positions.
I think that will most certainly assist those who are undecided in making a choice before election day.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce