Lost amid the contentious Right to Work legislation being fast-tracked through the legislature this week as Scott Walker campaigns for president around the country are Joint Finance Committee hearings on Walker’s “Iowa Caucus Budget,” but the sweeping changes Walker has proposed to the state Department of Natural Resources are starting to get the attention they deserve as even Republican legislators are questioning the plans, which include a proposal to sell naming rights to our state parks.
Scott Walker might not live here anymore as he campaigns for president around the country, merely “visiting” Wisconsin from time to time, but millions of Wisconsinites value our conservation heritage and the preservation of our state park system — so Walker’s Iowa Caucus Budget proposal that guts funding for state parks is already cause for alarm. In addition to the fee increases proposed in Walker’s budget, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp yesterday told members of the Joint Finance Committee that the state was looking at several other options to generate revenue, like selling naming rights to our natural resources to offset Walker’s cuts.
Exclusive access for corporate donors to Wisconsin’s farm and forest land and valuable state real estate has been a hallmark of Scott Walker’s time in office. Scott Walker proposed in his 2013 budget changes to state law to allow foreign companies and individuals to buy large tracts of land, like farms, that are over 640 acres in size. Republicans and Democrats alike voiced concerns, and the proposal was deleted by the Joint Finance Committee. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation also opposed the changes. On his way out of office to a cushy lobbying job in Washington, D.C., Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen greenlit the Walker land proposal.
Another provision of the 2013 budget allowed the Walker administration to sell off state assets without a competitive bidding process. Included for sale are telecommunications towers and related infrastructure around the state, administrative buildings in Madison and Milwaukee, the Northern Wisconsin Center in Chippewa Falls, and land surrounding the state Department of Transportation building that has been described as prime commercial real estate.
Also in 2013 a group calling itself United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, a Tea Party group funded by the Koch brothers and headed by a Walker political insider, was almost the recipient of a $500,000 grant inserted by then-Rep. Scott Suder into the state budget for the purpose of promoting hunting, fishing and trapping in Wisconsin. United Sportsmen was found to have no history of outdoors training; their record more closely mirrored a lobbying organization for Republican interests and several prominent board members were found to have donated to Republican candidates and causes. It was only after United Sportsmen falsified its application to the state and at a hearing before the Joint Finance Committee in stating that they had a federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation did the Walker administration finally cancel the grant.
And following a $700,000 donation to Wisconsin Club for Growth for Scott Walker in exchange for access to the legislative process, the out-of-state mining company Gogebic Taconite was able to draft their own legislation, with assistance from the Governor’s Office, on a controversial mining proposal that endangered Wisconsin’s natural resources. Just last week, however, the company announced it was no longer going to continue with the project and they would not create the jobs promised.
“As someone who simply ‘visits’ Wisconsin as he campaigns for president, Scott Walker might not remember that our state parks are vital to Wisconsin’s conservation heritage,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said Wednesday. “Are we going to see Donald Trump Trail or Koch Springs? McRib Mountain? This is absurd. The people who do live here in Wisconsin, and love our state, deserve better than Walker’s short-sighted giveaways to corporate special interests that threaten our state’s richest assets, our natural resources.”