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Wise gas tax words from on high PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 10 May 2017 21:26

A voice of reason on the subject of America’s transportation needs was heard last week. The voice belonged to Donald Trump. 

Yes, that Trump, the president of the United States. Unlike some of his more colorful utterances, this one seemed intended to be taken seriously, and it should be, especially by Congress.

Trump said the federal gasoline tax should be raised. He put out the idea in an interview with Bloomberg News as a way to help fund his $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Trump seems to get it about road funding. The gas tax is a simple and effective means already in place to raise money to fix the country’s woefully neglected highways and bridges. It just needs to bring in more money.

During the same week the president showed his grasp of the transportation funding issue, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker again displayed his obtuseness on the matter by rejecting a plan by legislators of his own Republican party to address the state’s road crisis by increasing the fuel tax.

Deteriorated roads, besides endangering users and increasing the cost of vehicle ownership, are a drag on the economy. Twenty-one states have countered this since 2013 by increasing their fuel taxes. Just last week, California increased its gas tax by $5 billion a year to help sustain the best performing state economy in the nation.

Meanwhile, with the governor rejecting a restrained fuel tax increase that would have raised $200 million a year, Wisconsin remains stuck with a huge road maintenance and building backlog and no plan to deal with it.

The federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel fuel has remained at this level for the past 20 years. With inflation and vehicles getting more miles per gallon, fuel tax revenue is diminishing when its need is increasing.

The result is highway conditions that get worse by the year. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the highway system of the world’s richest nation a D grade, the deteriorated state of roads cost the U.S. $100 billion in 2014 alone. The Department of Transportation estimated the current repair backlog at $90 billion.

There is no mystery, or even complexity, about the issue: Failing to restore transportation infrastructure quality to a reasonable standard costs lives and hurts the economy. Better roads are safer for drivers and passengers, make for shorter commutes and stimulate economic growth by making the shipping of goods and materials more efficient.

Assuming he doesn’t upend his sensible recommendation with a midnight tweet, Trump’s gas tax idea can be expected to resurface at some point in Congress. There it is certain to be met with resistance from those representatives who are members, as is Wisconsin’s governor, of the all-taxes-are-evil sect. 

Refusing on ideological grounds to consider raising taxes regardless of need is no service to taxpayers in any context, but it is especially contrary to progress in the case of transportation infrastructure. 

Road taxes may be the oldest of all taxes, levied for centuries as tolls and fees by advanced nations and municipalities that recognized the ability to travel as essential to promoting commerce and improving the standard of living for citizens.

Walker has been so unbending on the gas tax that Republican legislators, pressed by business interests to do something to lift the state out of its gaping highway funding hole, resorted to packaging their transportation plan in clownish wrapping paper to disguise the gas tax increase. 

Their plan would actually reduce the gas tax by 4.8 cents per gallon, but then charge the state’s 5% sales tax on gasoline sales. The net result would add 7.2 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas to be used for roads.

Road funding doesn’t have to be as complicated—or as foolish—as that. Trump is often criticized and sometimes ridiculed for oversimplifying complex government issues, but raising revenue to start upgrading transportation infrastructure really is simple for the federal and state governments.

As the man said, just raise the gas tax.

Poems written on the sky PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 03 May 2017 20:22

A tornado cut through Port Washington like a giant chain saw in August 1964. The twister didn’t just remove roofs and topple walls, it actually cut some houses in half. That not a single person was killed or seriously injured was so hard to believe that people called it a miracle.

There was nothing miraculous, however, about what the tornado did to the trees of Port Washington. It laid waste to much of the city’s cover of shade trees. Along the western reaches of Grand Avenue in particular, it took down stands of magnificent deciduous trees, many of which dated to the 19th century, towering, thick-trunked elms, maples and oaks whose arching branches created a verdant canopy over a street bordered by stately old homes. 

Other arboreal disasters were to follow. Dutch elm disease claimed many of the tornado survivors, and in a 21st-century plague, the city’s ash forest was decimated by the emerald ash borer, with more than 500 sick trees in public spaces cut down in the last two years alone.

The presence of trees is often taken for granted, but when they’re gone their contributions to a community are starkly obvious and badly missed. Besides their seasonally evolving beauty, urban trees grace streets with shade, quiet, wind-breaks and bird life; they clean the air and emit oxygen while introducing nature into a largely man-made environment.

Port Washington has been hit hard by tree loss, but it’s fighting back with an aggressive program to restore the leaf canopy. This year the city’s Public Works Department will plant 600 trees along Port streets, even more than in the recent past when it added about 500 trees a year. The tree program is so ambitious that the city is starting its own nursery to ensure a dependable supply of a variety of tree types. 

It will take years to regrow the canopy, but even at a young age the plantings bring many of the benefits of trees to city streets. Some of the varieties in the eclectic mix are remarkably beautiful, especially the ornamental fruit trees at blossom time.

Residents of Port Washington have Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven to thank for the city’s commitment to trees. Under his aegis, the city has invested not only in thousands of trees, but in the resources needed to manage the public forest. The DPW now has crews led by two foresters to plant new trees, remove dying trees and maintain the tree stock with systematic pruning.

Not everyone is enthralled with the extent of the city’s tree program. A few critics have noted that the trees cost taxpayers a significant amount of money for their purchase, planting and upkeep. Others of a practical bent have said the trees will be a nuisance when they grow tall enough to interfere with utility wires and that the downtown trees will block commercial signs and views from second story windows.

There is some truth in all of the complaints, but the gifts of trees are worth every bit of their expense and bother.

The tree planting program will enhance residential streets more every year, but it has already brought new beauty and character to the downtown. For the first time in city history, trees were planted on both sides of Franklin Street as part of the rebuilding and streetscaping of four its blocks. Ten years later, the results are satisfying beyond expectation. The ranks of trees add texture, color and perspective to make Franklin one of the handsomest small-town commercial streets likely to be seen anywhere. When aglow with strings of white lights, the trees bring a sense of fantasy to the street at night.

“It’s just intuitive that a tree-filled space is better to be in than a space devoid of trees.” Vanden Noven said that in a news story in last week’s Ozaukee Press.

That’s a pretty good tree quote, if not quite as inspirational as what the poet Khalil Gibran said about trees: “Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”

Amen to the words of both tree lovers.

Bang, ping, zing, varoom PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 27 April 2017 19:40

There’s a Target down range, but that doesn’t mean it’s all right to blast away with various types of firearms a scant half mile from the Village of Grafton’s shopping mecca at its intersection with the I-43 freeway.

The Target we’re referring to is a department store, one of a plethora of retail establishments in the sprawling commercial district at the eastern border of the Village and Town of Grafton, not one of the targets aimed at by the shooters who were creating a nuisance on a nearby Arrowhead Road property.

There were no reports of bullets hitting Target or any other stores, but the proximity of  the private firing range to the shopping area was considered when the Grafton Town Board cracked down on the shooters recently.

The board revoked the firearms discharge permit for the property owned by Michael and Dean Hoppe in February and refused on April 12 to grant their request that it be reissued. It was the right decision, one that highlights the growing conflict between urbanization and the remaining countryside of Ozaukee County. 

The possibility of bullets straying into the busy shopping complex was mentioned by Town Chairman Lester Bartel, but even more worrisome to board members were reports from town residents.

One told of shooting by “multiple weapons and rapid, successive firings taking place,” accompanied by continuous gunshot noise, “zings and pings.” She added, “I felt like I was in a war zone and not in a quiet, calm country residential home.”

A neighbor said he lost count after hearing 400 rounds. Another reported the shooting going for four to six hours one day.

Theresa Stay expressed what no doubt were the sentiments of many Town of Grafton residents when she told the board, “I expect where I live to be somewhat quiet and peaceful.”

That expectation, of course, is what motivates people to move to the Town of Grafton and other once rural areas of Ozaukee County. Numerous country-style subdivisions have sprung up on what was once farmland in the Town of Grafton, whose tax roll is swelling with the value of homes on large lots. Elected representatives have a responsibility to work to keep threats to that peace and quiet at bay.

In the eastern part of the Town of Grafton, a growing source of incursions into the peace of the countryside is the county road that runs through it, Highway C. Designed to be no more than a country road, it has become a heavily traveled alternative to state Highway 32 and I-43 and a joyriders’ speedway.

Commercial vehicles, including semi-trailer trucks, traveling between Port Washington and points south are part of the traffic that frequents the road. Conflicts with residents who use the road in a different way are inevitable. The mix of bicycle riders, runners, walkers, jogging mothers pushing strollers and even horseback riders with this excessive motor traffic can lead to nothing good.

As for quiet, that is a forlorn hope on any warm weather weekend when fleets of motorcycles take over the road. Realistic residents of Wisconsin, home of Harley-Davidson headquarters, have given up expecting police in this state to enforce exhaust noise limits for motorcycles, but enforcing speed limits for them, which it seems is not happening much on Highway C, should be another story.

The county should do its part to protect the peace and quiet of the Town of Grafton countryside by applying weight limits to keep large trucks off of Highway C and increasing attention to the road by sheriff’s department patrols.

Country living is a quality-of-life alternative that is attracting many families to Ozaukee County. Residents lured by that lifestyle shouldn’t have to have a shooting range in their backyards—or a country road that acts like an urban thoroughfare. 

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