Nash column: Big government party not interested in local control

By Pat Nash, For the Baraboo News Republic

They hope we won’t notice. Republicans call for less government intervention in our lives and preach the best government is closest to the people. Then, when they’re elected, they write and pass scores of bills to take local control away.

Ever since Gov. Scott Walker was elected, we’ve seen the Republican-dominated Legislature do it on a regular basis. According to a 2016 report by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, state GOP lawmakers passed more than 100 bills that take authority away from towns, cities and counties to enact and enforce their own rules. Eighty of those were passed despite fierce Democratic resistance.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, summed it up in a statement in the May 20, 2016, Wisconsin State Journal: “From restricting county shore-land zoning ordinances passed by county boards, to banning municipal governments from passing container ordinances that make sense for the well-being of their community, legislative Republicans repeatedly used their majority in a blatant government overreach.”

In 2011, they passed Senate Bill 23, which prevents local governments from passing paid sick leave or family medical leave ordinances to benefit more people than state law. The bill made a mockery of their so-called belief in the benefits of local control, and it went against their so-called belief in free markets and competition. Communities attempt to attract good workers. One of the ways to do that is to offer attractive benefits.

Yet offering $3 billion to a company from Taiwan with a reputation for treating workers shabbily and dropping out of agreements is just fine with Walker and the Republican legislators. But if local governments offer incentives to workers, they consider it a waste of taxpayer money. Anyone see the hypocrisy in that?

There’s more. In 2013, Walker signed a bill that restricted early voting times and limited county clerks’ control over voting hours. He also signed a bill that limited the hours and days a clerk’s office could be open for early voting, eliminated weekend voting and restricted voting hours that were available for people who work full-time or more than one job. Republican lawmakers decided the state knew more about how long people have to wait in line to vote than local officials do.

Also in 2013, they passed a bill that limits municipalities in prohibiting cell phone towers. People in the area have no say and no recourse against a cell phone tower being erected within feet of their property. The Joint Finance Committee approved the bill with no public notice or opportunity for the public to respond.

In his June 4, 2015, newsletter, Sen. Jon Erpenbach noted: “Local control took a big hit in this budget with JFC Republicans eliminating local water quality decisions for Dane County, removing local room tax authority from municipalities, eliminating local shore land preservation rules and removing local school boards’ decision-making authority for charter schools.”

Then there was the 2013 mining bill written for Gogebic Taconite, but applicable to any mining company that wants to mine iron ore in the state. It puts the burden of road building and repair on the government body nearest the mine. Yet unlike the mining law it replaced, those governments would get only 60 percent of the tax on the company’s revenue to offset the impacts of the mine. The state would get the remainder. The old law gave the nearest community all of it.

Also in the mining bill is a provision that prohibits local landowners from getting compensation from the mining company or the state if their wells are contaminated or go dry due to mining operations. If that doesn’t convince voters Republican lawmakers don’t care about ordinary people and local control, then I’m not sure what will.

In a Feb. 24, 2016, opinion column in the Capital Times, Dave Zweifel cited more attacks Wisconsin Republican lawmakers have made on local controls. “Ending residency requirements for public employees by local governments; restricting local governments, even urban areas like Madison, from regulating bow-hunting within their boundaries; prohibiting local governments from regulating real estate brokers,” and more.

The same things are happening in other Republican-dominated states. According to an April 10, 2016, news article by Gary D. Robertson in the Wisconsin State Journal, “Alabama legislators voided Birmingham’s decision to increase the minimum wage, while Missouri lawmakers blocked similar pay increases by all cities and counties. They also barred local governments from banning plastic bags used by retailers.” It continues with many more examples.

And now they’re pushing The Employment Standardization Act, which would prohibit local governments from making and enforcing their own employment discrimination laws.

It’s clear by their actions Republican politicians value local control only when they can control it. Attentive voters will remember that the next time they go to the polls.