WISCONSIN WATER TORTURE: The drip-drip-drip of Walker corruption hurts him, but could turn off voting | WisCommunity

WISCONSIN WATER TORTURE: The drip-drip-drip of Walker corruption hurts him, but could turn off voting

Another day, another round of political water torture for Scott Walker and his questionable campaign activities.

Over the weekend it was the Wisconsin State Journal reporting on how Walker's Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) held essentially secret talks to provide $6 million in tax credits to Ashley Furniture, a large Wisconsin-based company that, in return, promised not to cut about half its state work force. Such a deal.

Today it was the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporting that in a newly released court filing, prosecutors allege Walker's campaign "crossed a bright legal line" when it coordinated with a pair of independent conservative groups, both of which advertised in support of specific candidates in the gubernatorial and state Senate recall elections of 2011 and 2012.

Drip, drip, drip. It's no wonder Team Walker has sent in its political plumbers to stem the leak of embarrassing information, or at least try to muddy up the tainted political waters with murky rhetoric.

Speaking of dripping water, the Journal Sentinel also played catch-up on the State Journal story, reporting that Ashley would turn the $6 million in tax credits over to the City of Arcadia for a flood control project. "The project would benefit the western Wisconsin city and Ashley, which operates a huge factory there. Flooding in 2010 shut down the Ashley plant."

The company told the State Journal it plans to donate the $6 million tax credit to the city “to move a creek that flooded the downtown in 2010. The creek project would allow Ashley to move forward with a 480,000-square-foot expansion and keep its headquarters in Wisconsin."

The history here arguably is not quite what the company seeks to portray. It's more like: Hey, everyone, let's build in a nominally protected wetlands, and then years later get the state to pay for an engineering fix because the floodplain is getting in our way. This is not unlike expanding a vacation home on a barrier island in the Atlantic after a hurricane sweeps through – and expecting the government to underwrite some of the costs.

Back in 2005, before Walker became governor, Ashley and the state Department of Natural Resources came under fire from environmental groups for an earlier company addition that filled 13.5 acres of wetlands. Wrote the La Crosse Tribune: "Without that expansion, the company said later, most of the company’s 2,000 Arcadia-based jobs would have been moved out of state."

Now, although the GOP won't admit it, Democratic and Republican governors alike are interested in economic development and job growth. And – more's the pity -- it was under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle when the state approved the earlier deal to allow Ashley to go ahead with its plan to take over a section of wetlands for its huge facility.

But Walker has taken environmental miscreance to a whole new level. Since the administration of Tommy Thompson, Republican and Democratic governors (that's three GOP governors and one Democratic) all have been willing to help business development by relaxing the rules and laws that protect the state's precious, environmentally critical, and fast-dwindling wetlands. The DNR allows "mitigation" whereby an entity [often one of those “corporate persons”] can fill a wetlands for a commercial purpose if it "creates" new wetlands elsewhere. But the "created" wetlands aren't at all a natural substitute.

Gov. "We're Completely Legitimate" Walker came right out of the gate after his inauguration in 2011 to propose exempting from water quality standards a parcel of Brown County wetlands owned by a Republican businessman and campaign donor, so that a Bass Pro Shop could be located there. Public outcry ended that plan, so Walker's next move was to make such pesky, case-by-case exemptions unnecessary.

Walker then engineered a blanket exemption clause into state legislation, giving his office final say on rules that threatened to impose (oh, the horror!) regulation on business. That was in tandem with his revamping of the DNR, turning it into Commerce Department Lite, thus enabling businesses to more easily exploit the Wisconsin environment for profit.

The problem here is that this is only a problem because nearly a decade ago the influential and politically active Ashley firm got state dispensation to build on a wetlands. Now, after the federal government turned down the City of Arcadia's request for aid to mitigate flooding in the developed flood plain, Ashley expects state dollars not just in return for its promise to more or less stick around, but dollars that enable its expansion there. All we have to do, you see, is move a creek!

Ashley also wants -- just as a legal precaution, mind you, not that it would ever actually prefer to do this! -- the state to provide advance permission allowing it to cut its state workforce nearly in half if the economy tanks again (is it even out of the tank, yet?). A pretty one-sided deal, most state taxpayers might think, but only if they were made aware of it. You see, in June, Walker’s office began blacking out entries on his official public calendar naming businesses seeking taxpayer subsidies. It might spook those businesses if they knew the general public would be made aware of the proposed deal, according to WEDC lawyers.

Back in March, Walker held a press event at the Ashley factory in Whitehall, near Arcadia, touting the firm's expansion and job growth. Said the La Crosse Tribune, "The governor cited initiatives such as a manufacturing tax credit, which will eliminate virtually all tax liability for production in Wisconsin by 2016, and worker training for helping keep companies like Ashley." Yeah. Privatize profits, socialize the costs.

Meanwhile, Walker had already spent several months secretly orchestrating the fat tax credit deal to help the firm by sending huge tax credits to move a river, which deal we only know of now because of a leak. The ramifications are now going to be kicked around. Sure this deal might mean a few more jobs, and that some existing positions are guaranteed to remain. But that will be at a huge cost to taxpayers, and the state's once pristine environment.

Drip, drip, drip. Yes, all these daily revelations are damaging Walker, but they're driving Wisconsin voters to distraction in the process, and the governor's last best hope for re-election is to hope they just wash their hands of the whole election. What a drip.


August 26, 2014 - 9:55am