Friday, November 14, 2014

This week in WisGOP corruption- frack the Bucks and the DOT

Here are three cases from the past few days that shows just how far Wisconsin has fallen from the “clean government” reputation it used to have.

1. The first issue deals with the possibility of replacing the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks arena at the Bradley Center with a new arena, allowing the team to stay in town. If there are any changes in local sales tax or other development laws related to a new Bucks arena, the GOP-run State Legislature will have to sign off on it. Well, Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos went on Mike Gousha’s show in Milwaukee, and openly shook down new Bucks owner Mark Lasry, claiming Lasry’s past support of Democrats will hurt any chances of getting the state to help pass any legislation related to funding of a new Bucks arena.

John Peterson at Democurmudgeon has a good breakdown of this, and I’ll include the following passage from Robbin’.
Gousha: “Why should that bother you? You know he’s been a long time Democratic donor, why does that bother you?

Vos: “It sure does bother me because as you’re coming to us saying you want to be an active participant in the community, picking a team is something like me not picking the right team. Um, I don’t care what his political benefits are, but coming to us saying they want to have hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies, and not taking the wherewithal to say, I’m not gonna get involved to part in the political discussion in Wisconsin when I don’t have too, sure would have been a better decision from my perspective.”

Gousha: “It bothers you?”

Vos: “It does, I think it makes it harder for me to sell to our caucus. Don’t forget, for people who live in most of the rest of Wisconsin, they look at Milwaukee as a place that already gets too much of our money. And now what you’re doing is making an even more difficult decision happen for a lot of folks around the state. So they’ve got to be a lot smarter with their technique. I mean, I want to bring those jobs and keep them in Wisconsin, but having us give hundreds of millions of dollars to big-time donors who give to Democrats, but also have billions of dollars of their own? That’s a hard sell. So I don’t think they need to do anything that makes my job more difficult."

In addition to Vos’s obvious underlying message of "fuck you, pay me!," it seems to matter more to Robbin’ that Lasry plays ball with the state GOP and kisses the Speaker's ass than it does to debate the merits of any package relating to the Bucks arena. If that doesn’t show how petty and self-centered this GOP crew is, nothing does.

The race-based Milwaukee-bashing is also very telling (“too much of OUR money”???) Someone needs to remind Robbin’ that Milwaukee County attracts more tourist dollars than any other county in the state, and that many of us who care for that city would love the chance for it to be able to generate its own revenues instead of having its hands tied by 262 suburb boys like Vos.

2. Here's some other possible pay-for-play here. The state’s plans for the Department of Transportation’s Hill Farms building and property continues to go on behind closed doors. I touched on how sketchy I found this potential no-bid setup to be when the Capital Times first reported on it back in October, and it’s looking worse now. Channel 27 in Madison followed up on this, and reports that Scott Walker’s Department of Administration continues to say that this massive potential land deal is none of the public’s business.
In June 2013, [developer Terrance] Wall sent a letter to Governor Walker expressing an interest in buying several state properties, including Hill Farms. Wall also signaled his support for Gov. Walker's desire to eliminate the competitive bid process used to sell state properties. The state legislature passed a measure eliminating competitive bids just a few weeks later….

On October 13th, 2014, DOA posted an RFP for the Hill Farms property on its website. It required anyone interested in submitting a proposal to register for a tour of the facility by October 15th.

27 News made an open records request with DOA seeking the names of the people who took that tour, but was denied …

27 News wanted to know who was on the tour, because nine days after the registration deadline for it, Terrance Wall made a donation of $9,975 to Gov. Walker's campaign.

I notice that the "Unintimidated" Walker Administration has now backed down, and apparently will reveal the proposers on Monday- more than a week after the RFP deadline. As a guy who has worked on developing and evaluating RFPs for the state, revealing the names of respondents and attendees at required meetings is something that is public record (in fact, the Walker Administration and DOT put this on themselves by making that October 15 tour mandatory), and only allowing a few days of notice for the tour and three weeks to make a proposal on a mega-project could be construed as unfairly slanting the field toward certain bidders - a giant no-no when it comes to state procurement rules. Add in WKOW’s revelation of developer Terrance Wall’s near-max donation to the Walker campaign one week after the tour of the building, and how can you not think there is something fishy going on?

3. And the crookedness isn’t just affecting things in the big cities. Today’s story from Wisconsin Public Radio shows the DNR is letting the state’s frac sand operations go on without inspections, leading to a lack of information when it comes to pollution levels near these sites.
Fewer than 10 percent of frac sand mining operations in Wisconsin are monitoring how much dust is blowing from their sites, thanks in part to monitoring exemptions the DNR has granted to most companies that have requested them since 2012

Larger frac sand mines and processing plants are required to install ambient air monitors nearby that can measure tiny particles coming from smokestacks, sand piles and trucks. But only 11 air monitors have been installed by frac sand companies since the industry began expanding in 2010, meaning that around 90 percent of companies aren’t being monitored.

Companies can ask for an exemption from monitoring if they can make the case on paper and through computer modeling that the general public will not be harmed. According to data obtained through an open records request, there have been 20 applications for air monitoring exemptions in the last two years. Of those, 15 have been granted by DNR.

And the results of this lack of DNR regulation and observing of pollution levels are starting to become known. WPR also reported earlier this week that researchers from UW-Eau Claire have noted that dust levels around these mines are well above the levels deemed acceptable by the federal government.
For six years, students at the school’s Environmental Public Health Program have been working under Dr. Crispin Pierce to measure fine silica particles blowing from frac sand sites. The particles are called PM 2.5, meaning they’re 2.5 microns in diameter. A human hair, by comparison, is around 60 microns.

Pierce said that the program is monitoring the PM 2.5 because the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t do so. He and his students used ambient air monitors on loan from the University of Iowa to measure four frac sand sites in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Pierce said they found concentrations that were four times higher than federal standards. However, he said more study is needed.

“I don’t think that based upon the results we’ve found so far there will be many acute hazards for people living around frac sand plants,” he said. “But we are concerned about long-term exposure, dirty air over a long period of time increasing things like cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.”
Funny how these things all start coming out within 10 days of the election, isn’t it? And given how drunk with power the Wisconsin GOP is (despite only getting the votes of 28% of Wisconsin voters), you can bet these guys won’t just ignore this corruption being exposed- they’ll do more to make sure this type of pay-to-play is made into Standard Operating Procedure.

These guys won’t stop this act until they’re either charged in court, or the people rise up and throw them out. Which makes me wonder when that happens, and who will be the ones that make it happen.

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