Larson Report 
NEWSLETTER

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 A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

Hope you been enjoying the good days of weather when we get them. As folks gear up to again explore state forests, trails, and natural waters, I thought it would be a good time to talk about our state's policies on our natural resources and where they are heading. The great outdoors are part of our heritage and we should be doing more to preserve our land and make sure our water is safe to drink for everyone.

We've been having strange days at the capitol lately. Today, in fact, we finished another very short session where we continued to avoid tackling some of the biggest issues facing our state. We did finally pass legislation that will stop businesses from writing off expenses for when they move out of state. I've cosponsored this bill for a few sessions and am glad to see it move forward. However, this victory comes in the shadow of a recent audit of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) that businesses have taken (and can continue to take) tax credits for creating jobs in other states. This agency needs to be shut down and replaced before Wisconsin can finally move forward in a coherent and transparent way.

Before we dive into policy, I want to invite you to join me at an upcoming town hall. We kicked off our first one on Monday in Oak Creek and I'm looking forward to seeing more of our neighbors next week.

Have a great week and go Bucks!

 

In Service, 

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P.S. If you are interested in the full list of changes to the Environmental Improvement Fund, an analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) can be found HERE.

Also, you can find a complete summary of the changes coming to the Department of Natural Resources HERE.

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Reversing The GOP Damage To Our Environment 
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From developing national organizations such as the Sierra Club to the creation of Earth Day in 1970, the state of Wisconsin has played a crucial role in the modern environmental movement.

In the 1960s, Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson established Wisconsin's national reputation as a leader in environmental protection with his advocacy of our state's first of its kind, Outdoor Recreation Act. The Outdoor Recreation Act pledged $50 million over the next decade toward environmental planning, land acquisition, and easements along state highways to ensure scenic values.

Until our very recent history, Wisconsin has always enjoyed the reputation we built as good stewards of the environment — it is time for us to restore that reputation.

When I was first elected to the Wisconsin State Senate, I made environmental protection a cornerstone issue when I talked with voters. I did this because I know that when we fight for our shared environment, we are fighting for the future of our community, for our children, and our grandchildren.   

The anti-environmental legacy of former Governor Scott Walker and legislative Republicans is one of devaluing science, catering to foreign corporate polluters, and a slash and burn approach to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

In 2015, Walker and the Republicans cut 66 positions from the DNR, 18 of which were specifically from the Bureau of Scientific Services — this represented a cut of 20% to the science group.

But the 2015 budget doesn't tell the whole story. Walker’s three state budgets cut $59 million from the DNR and eliminated nearly 200 positions. For the entirety of his eight years in office, Governor Walker defunded, demoralized, and diminished the DNR and now it has been left up to legislative Democrats, working with Governor Evers, to right the ship.

The defunding and decline in staff and the partisan culture shift at the DNR has led to significant dysfunction. During Walker's time in office, fines for pollution violations suspiciously plummeted, and according to reporting by Wisconsin Public Radio, at one point they dropped by 80%. I don't believe that this was because these corporations and companies decided to stop polluting and instead clean up their act. More likely, this appears to be Walker's DNR not enforcing environmental law.

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If Republicans are serious about rebalancing the scales between polluters and the quality and health of our shared environment, then they need to come to the table and work with Democrats who've been working for years on this issue.

 

Environmental Science in Governor Evers' Budget

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In Governor Evers, we again have a Governor who (like legislative Democrats) recognizes and values the importance of science. While it is going to take a long time to make up for all the cuts to science at the DNR, this budget makes a great start. The budget as written provides $918,000 for ten new science positions in 2020 and 2121. This will increase the capacity for scientific research within the department and begin to reverse the cuts Walker made.

The budget would also improve the current Office of Applied Sciences to create the Bureau of Natural Resources Science. The bureau director would serve as the science advisor to the Department of Natural Resources secretary.

This Budget also provides $150,000 in the next year to develop a department-wide model to identify and prioritize sites with likely per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals, according to the EPA, "are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects."

It feels great to be again working with a governor who not only understands science but values the information we can gather by investing in research.

The Knowles/Nelson Stewardship Fund

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Bipartisan conservation has been a huge part of what defines Wisconsin and the Knowles/Nelson Stewardship Fund is the historical cornerstone of Wisconsin conservation.

With overwhelming bipartisan support, the Wisconsin Legislature created the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program in 1989 to safeguard natural areas and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation. The conservation and recreation goals of the Stewardship Program are achieved through the acquisition of significant and sensitive lands and easements, development of recreational facilities, and restoration of critical wildlife habitat. 

The budget that Democrats are fighting for would extend the Warren Knowles-Gaylord Nelson Stewardship fund through 2022 at the current funding levels. This two-year extension of the program will allow the Department of Natural Resources and stakeholders to identify future options for funding this program into the future, hopefully much longer than that.

Restoring Wisconsin's Water Quality

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The Governors' budget will be investing in our water by funding four new full-time project positions to implement water quality restoration and improvement plans.

There will also be a $4 million investment to provide grants to restore water quality improvement plans. On top of that, the budget will invest almost $1.5 million to fund river and lake protection grants.

What all of this means is that Wisconsin will again be investing in the Department of Natural Resources, and empowering the agency to refocus on stopping polluters and protecting our natural resources. Again, if you'd like the complete DNR budget breakdown, it is HERE.  

 

Clean Water in the Governor's Budget

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In a truly callous and cynical maneuver, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos strong-armed his Republican colleagues and got the provisions that would have protected Wisconsin's children from lead poisoning pulled from the budget during a recent session of the Joint Finance Committee. I remain hopeful that this short-sighted political gamesmanship will be reversed when the budget comes for a vote in front of the full Senate. 

Democrats have been clear about our commitment to doing more to help ensure that everyone has access to clean, drinkable, and reliable water and solving the issue of lead in Wisconsin. This budget (as written by Governor Evers) makes it clear that reprioritizing the protection of our state's water resources is vitally important.

In the last session, I was a co-author on Senate Bill 48 which was aimed at tackling the lead issue in Wisconsin. We were able to work in a bipartisan way and that bill was signed into law. What that law did was provide for water utilities to assist financially in replacing lead service lines.

The budget would have built on that hard work by making a sizable investment in combating lead in water. As part of the Environmental Improvement Program in the budget, it was proposed to invest $40,000,000 for lead remediation. This would be a significant help to our neighbors who are threatened with the potential for lead water contamination from conditions that often predate the purchase of the house. 

Milwaukee has been struggling with this issue for some time and I would be glad to see this real, substantial investment be made. In Milwaukee, there are over 76,000 houses that have reported lead service lines, and Bay View has the highest concentration by aldermanic district.

Recently, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the cost of replacing tens of thousands of lead service lines throughout Wisconsin would be too expensive and instead called for other less costly options. He also indicated he was not supportive of Governor Evers' plan because Milwaukee would benefit greatly.

With one top Republican legislator saying, "My understanding is that the proposal — a vast majority of it — is going to Milwaukee," and "We had targeted our response to the lead issue as a local opportunity for communities to get involved and provide assistance at the local level, rather than people from Marinette funding lead replacements in Milwaukee. I'm not sure that that's necessarily fair from a taxpayer standpoint."    

In addition to Milwaukee sending more taxes to the state than gets returned to us, someone should tell Speaker Vos that for every $1 we spend on lead abatement we see a 133% return on investment with higher lifetime earnings and improved health outcomes. This lifts all of Wisconsin.

Again, I will continue to fight to make sure that lead remediation is restored to the budget when it comes up for a vote in the Senate.

The Clean Water Fund

Because the previous administration did not value our natural resources, including clean water, The Clean Water Fund was left underfunded by $13,500,000. Our budget will remedy this by making The Clean Water Fund whole and again investing that $13,500,000. 

We only have one shared environment and if we don't protect it, we are doing a devastating disservice to future generations. By making these investments in clean water, conservation, and public safety legislative Democrats and Governor Evers are once again safeguarding Wisconsin's future. It is not an "either-or" proposition, we can have a robust economy and protect our environment. A balance between the two must be struck and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to restore and maintain that balance. Without a liveable environment, we have nothing.      

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Ensuring that children and families are safe from lead-poisoned water should be a bipartisan priority, no matter where the lead pipes happen to be. It is outrageous to learn that Assembly Speaker Vos and other Republican leaders are not supportive of tackling this public health crisis, primarily because the most urgent need is in Milwaukee.

I urge everyone to contact Speaker Vos and tell him providing clean, safe drinking water is a priority no matter where the lead service lines are. Speaker Vos' contact info: repvos@legis.wisconsin.gov or by phone at 608-266-9171

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The Larson Report strives to provide up-to-date, in-depth information to you. Between editions, a lot happens in Madison and around the country. I want to make sure you know the most pressing issues facing our neighbors and friends across the nation. Below are some of the top stories from the past couple of weeks. 

UN Report: 1 Million Animal And Plant Species At Risk Of Extinction

It is no great surprise that humans are contributing to the destruction of the natural world at an alarming rate, but a new UN report makes it clear that the devastation is proceeding hundreds of times faster than in the last 10 million years. The rate of decline and devastation has never before been seen in history and has the potential to lead to a sixth mass extinction event.

The authors of the report warn, “Nature and its vital contributions to people, which together embody biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are deteriorating worldwide.”

If we want to reverse this trend, we must act immediately. “It is not too late to make a difference,” Professor Watson (a contributor to the UN report) said, “but only if we start now at every level from local to global. Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably -- this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.” 

Wisconsin Republicans Gut Medicaid Expansion

Last week Republicans followed through with their threat to go against the will of the people and once again reject Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin.

Again, 70% of Wisconsinites support expanding Medicaid because they know it would cover 82,000 more of our neighbors, and save the state hundreds of millions of dollars that we could use for our roads and schools.

WEDC Gave Tax Dollars To Businesses That Created Jobs In Other States

I thought the W in WEDC was supposed to stand for Wisconsin. The fact that Walker’s Economic Development Corporation threw away our tax dollars to businesses creating jobs in other states is just the latest example of how this “agency” has been mismanaged.

It’s fiscal mismanagement that Republicans stripped away some of Governor Evers’ power to reform this failing agency during the lame duck session. With a track record as bad as WEDC’s it would only make sense to scrap this failed experiment and start over. 

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