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Cut the carbon PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:32

Even global-warming deniers should be able to agree that filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide from fossil fuel is a bad thing

The global-warming legislation proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle is apparently quite warm itself, as in too hot to handle in its present form. This became evident when one of the governor’s political allies, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, announced he couldn’t support it without “significant changes,” meaning changes that would soften the impact of some of the measures to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Barrett is running for governor and is wary of having to campaign with the bullseye of a potentially unpopular environmental bill pasted on his chest, demonstrating once again that politics is a formidable impediment to progress on global warming.

The legislation will now go in for retooling to make it more palatable, not an easy process in that any effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will likely involve short-term pain (higher energy costs) to achieve long-term gain.

The ensuing debate should be about how much the state can reasonably accomplish in reducing greenhouse emissions and how its economy can benefit from energy efficiency and renewable energy.

What it should not be about is the validity of climate change and the crackpot proposition that global warming is a hoax. One way to avoid that dismal prospect might be for Wisconsin legislators to observe the behavior of some of their brethren in the U.S. Congress concerning this issue and resolve to never talk so foolishly about something so important.

A number of Congress members could not resist making statements to the effect that this winter’s heavy snowfalls in Washington, D.C. disproved findings that the atmosphere is warming. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina posted his scientific analysis on Twitter: “It’s going to keep snowing until Al Gore cries uncle.”

It’s probably too much to ask that members of Congress, who should be helping to craft a coherent American approach to climate change, do a bit of research on the subject, but with a little reading they would have learned that global-warming studies have consistently predicted that a prominent symptom of climate change will be bizarre weather, the likes of droughts in rain belts, floods in arid regions, more severe hurricanes—and record-breaking snow in the capital.

Scientific findings that manmade climate change has the planet on course for disaster are persuasive to many, but not to a significant faction that seems convinced global warming is a fraud. Progress toward an effective climate policy might be easier if the issue were scaled down to several points on which more people could agree.

Who can’t agree that releasing an enormous and ever increasing volume of carbon into Earth’s atmosphere cannot be good? Global-warming deniers may claim it doesn’t cause climate change, but almost everyone should be able to agree that it can make the air dangerous to breathe by, as the Environmental Protection Agency recently found, “contributing to air pollution that may endanger public health.” Why keep pumping the stuff into the air?

And who can’t agree that, without even factoring in global warming, there are good reasons to curtail energy production from fossil fuels, not the least of which is that the supply is diminishing and America doesn’t have enough to meet its needs, with potentially dire economic and military consequences.

These are givens, justifying no further argument. Dealing with them requires new technology and bold initiatives—just the sort of challenge America once welcomed.

Unfortunately, it is now China that is welcoming this challenge and is forging far ahead of the U.S. with clean-air technology, suggesting the possibility that when the U.S. wakes up to the perils of climate change it will have to buy the pieces and parts for the remedy from its rival for global supremacy.

Back in Wisconsin, Doyle’s proposal is at least a good starting point for legislation that will get the state on the right track. Its goal of generating 25% of the state’s electricity from renewable sources in 15 years, though criticized as a job (and profits) killer by business lobbies, should not be dismissed without an honest evaluation. It was proposed, after all, by a task force that included business as well as environmental interests.

The question of whether the proposal will cost jobs or create them should be answered. A study by the economics departments of Michigan State University and the University of Southern California that predicts Doyle’s energy proposals would create more than 16,000 jobs and add $4.9 billion to the economy over the next 15 years must be taken into consideration.

The recommendation in the Doyle proposal that the state’s ban on nuclear reactors be relaxed should be accepted. Nuclear energy produces no carbon dioxide and is relatively cheap. Safety remains a concern, but experience in Europe, which has 195 nuclear power plants (more that three-fourths of France’s electricity comes from nuclear sources) proves it can be managed.

Let Wisconsin show how this should be done—without politicians playing at science and drawing simpleminded conclusions from a snowy winter in Washington.

A fair tax for libraries PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 17 February 2010 17:22

Ozaukee communities without libraries should support a small library tax increase in fairness and to protect a vital service for their residents

When the Fredonia Village Board and the Fredonia Town Board were asked in January to approve resolutions supporting a five-year plan to provide adequate funding for library services, both boards deferred action in order to study the request further. Prudence and due diligence are commendable, but in this case the trustees should have acted without hesitation to endorse a proposal that is clearly a benefit to their constituents.

It’s a benefit even though it comes with a small tax increase.

The five-year plan prepared by the Ozaukee Sheboygan Joint County Library Planning Committee calls for increasing the library tax paid by property owners in communities that don’t have libraries, including the Village and Town of Fredonia, by 1% a year from 2013 through 2015.

The added tax would be tiny and fair, yet important in helping to ensure the future of the smooth-working system that makes comprehensive library services available to residents of communities that don’t have their own libraries.

Seven Ozaukee County villages and townships do not operate libraries, but their residents are entitled to use the libraries in the Eastern Shores Library System, including those in Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Cedarburg, Mequon-Thiensville and Cedar Grove.

And thousands of them do. Roughly 20% to 30% of the users of libraries in Ozaukee County are residents who do not have local libraries.

Currently libraries are reimbursed for less than 90% of the cost of providing this service. This is not only unfair to the taxpayers in the communities that have libraries, but it undermines the sustainabilty of what is a marvelous arrangement for making the manifold benefits of public libraries universally accessible.

The joint committee plan logically and equitably calls for increasing the reimbursement to 100%. In the increments suggested, this would be almost painless to taxpayers, a few extra dollars over four years.

Beyond the services its makes available to the people in non-library communities, the county library tax helps protect the integrity of the institution of the free library, which has survived since ancient times as a testament to the value civilizations place on the collection and dissemination of knowledge.

Charging users to pay for library services—a fee to rent a book, for example—is a bad idea that crops up from time to time, recently at last month’s Fredonia Town Board meeting, where it was suggested that, as an alternative to increasing the library tax, libraries charge for services.

David Weinhold, director of the Eastern Shore system, had an excellent answer for that: “Libraries are built on the premise that free services should be provided to all. It is the philosophy of the public good.”

Precisely. And thanks to the county library tax, this public good is available to people whose communities do not yet have the wherewithal to establish their own libraries.

Fredonia—the village and the town—should give their enthusiastic support to the plan to gives libraries fair reimbursement for this service, as should every Ozaukee community without a library.

A miscarriage of justice PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 10 February 2010 15:55

Laying off prosecutors counties depend on to handle crime would be an unacceptable way for the state to deal with a budget shortfall, labor dispute

Believe District Attorney Adam Gerol when he says Ozaukee County’s system of justice would suffer if the state lay offs one of the three prosecutors in his office.

“We would not be able to keep up with our caseload,” Gerol told Ozaukee Press last month. “Some crimes that are charged in state court would simply have to be dealt with as ordinance violations. Already we’ve had to ratchet up the threshold for criminal charges because of the workload.”

Gerol’s concern, which is shared by prosecutors throughout the state, was triggered by a Dec. 30 letter from the Wisconsin Department of Administration notifying the Association of State Prosecutors of its intent to lay off assistant district attorneys in counties throughout Wisconsin.

The other shoe has yet to drop, but state officials said they will announce their plan to address a $1.3 million shortfall in the state prosecutor’s budget shortly. For now, those officials are not saying how many prosecutors are in danger of losing their jobs or which counties will be affected.

The issue is, in part, the product of a labor dispute between the Association of State Prosecutors, the union representing 424 assistant district attorneys, and that state over the number of furlough days prosecutors should have to take. The union is accusing the state of unfair treatment and state is threatening layoffs.

It’s difficult to tell how much of the state’s layoff threat is bargaining hyperbole, but the consequences of counties like Ozaukee having to make do with one less prosecutor is serious enough to warrant concern.   

According to the state’s own formula, district attorney’s offices throughout Wisconsin are understaffed. Ozaukee County is no exception. The DA’s office here has functioned with three prosecutors since 1978, when the third circuit court was added, but the state formula, based on the number of serious crimes prosecuted, calls for more than four.

The argument that reducing the number of Ozaukee County prosecutors would compromise our local justice system is an open and shut case.

The pace of the court system, often not that terribly swift now, would bog down. Victims would have to wait longer for justice and the restitution they rely on to make them whole. The accused would be left waiting for their day in court and a ruling on their fate.

Serious cases — violent crimes, drug cases, identity theft and other forms of fraud — would tax prosecutors to the limit, leaving them to choose between devoting less time to comparatively minor cases or giving short shrift to the types of crimes that most offend society.

Perhaps most important in a relatively low crime county such as Ozaukee, prosecutors would have less time to vet accusations before deciding whether to issue charges. Prosecutors will tell you the easiest thing they could do is to sign off on the constant stream of police reports that land on their desks, but an important, albeit hidden, check on the justice system is prosecutorial discretion.

Complicating the issue is the fact district attorney’s offices straddle the line between county and state control. Ozaukee County voters elect their district attorney and Ozaukee County taxpayers cover some of the costs of the office. But it is the state that pays the salaries of prosecutors and thereby exercises a great deal of control over the local justice system.

It would be unacceptable for the state to resolve its budget problems by laying off prosecutors and essentially telling counties to deal with the problems that result.

The fact is, this issue boils down to an argument over three unpaid days off work and a budget shortfall in the district attorneys’ budget of $1.3 million — $1.3 million in a state that was faced with a $6 billion shortfall last year.

The district attorneys’ budget has already been cut by $7.7 million, to $87.5 million. Trimming it by another $1.3 million isn’t going to solve the state’s profound financial challenges, but it will affect how crimes are prosecuted.

State officials should find a way to fund the shortfall without laying off prosecutors, then, with the cooperation of assistant district attorneys’ union, work out any labor disputes in a way that won’t be an injustice to taxpayers who expect an efficient and effective system of justice.

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