The Stillwater Bridge: a Brief History

There are over 2,000 bridges in Wisconsin deemed to be structurally deficient and earlier yesterday, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bipartisan bill to rebuild the one at the center of one of the longest and strangest controversies between the Cheeseheads and East Dakota. Having lived in Osceola, Wisconsin, twenty miles from this bridge, I can assure you that I have traveled it extensively, and I’ve followed the history closely.

The Stillwater Bridge has gained notoriety over the years for being exceptionally frightening to drive (or walk!) across, and for being habitually closed for repairs and floods. Conversations about replacing the bridge started when the bridge turned 50 (in 1981) and when the Twin Cities was just beginning to grow enough to consider Stillwater a suburb.  Early on, there was much confusion over who should pay more for the bridge, Wisconsin or Minnesota?  Complicating matters more is the fact that the bridge lies on the St. Croix River National Scenic Riverway, an area with strict construction requirements and conservation laws. Nevertheless, plans had slowly trudged along.

In 1994, when it seemed like a new bridge would come soon (the current bridge could legally retire now…) two of my friends who lived in Stillwater at the time were subject to Minnesota’s Eminent Domain and their neighborhood was bought out for the new bridge that would soon be coming. Nearing twenty years after THAT, and the end is finally in sight. Governor Walker sent a letter to US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood asking for support in an exemption to the protections placed on the Scenic Riverway. This letter mirrors one sent by Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Gottleib to Secretary LaHood.

Both letters note that the appropriate Congressional process is being pursued by two matching resolutions S. 1134 in the Senate and H.R. 850 in the House. The Senate’s version features signatures from ALL FOUR of Wisconsin and Minnesota’s senators (Klobuchar, Franklin, and Kohl for the Democrats, and Johnson for the Republicans) Additionally, the House version features the four most affected congressmen in the states, Democrat Ron Kind who actually represents the district, and Republicans Sean Duffy, Michelle Bachmann, and Chip Cravaack.

This is as bipartisan as it gets folks and its exciting to see finally happen.

Tomorrow, a follow up post will appear where I make the case as to why this bridge should be funded, despite cries from the likes of Representative Brett Hulsey that its not necessary.



Zombie Day, a Basket of Negative Publicity

I’ll preface this by saying that I am on the Board of Directors of United Council, which seems to imply that I was part of a board that could, you know, direct action for the organization. Well, this novel concept is not very well embraced in United Council, and today’s “Students are as good as dead to legislators” Zombie Day was no exception.  The plan for students to come, dressed up as the living dead is certainly a cute idea but cute doesn’t have  a lot of currency around the Capitol, even among Democratic offices.

Now, United Council has done stupid things before, and I’ve even participated, but at least the stupid events that I’ve done have been with approval from the Board. Newly elected President of United Council Seth Hoffmeister, if you’re reading this, please use this occasion, regardless of if you like or dislike the event, to assert the Board’s authority over staff.

United Council internal crap aside, I have numerous other problems with the horde.

  1. Poor theatrics. Staffers didn’t know they were Zombies unless I told them about the event because the makeup was ambiguous and the students were walking around like normal. You have to sell these things.
  2. Don’t commit crimes by smearing your paint on the carpet of the Co-Chair of JFC’s office. Additionally, if you do a “die-in” somewhere, the last 3 students who haven’t been dragged out should NEVER just get up and leave. Way to stay united on that one.
  3. Don’t disrespect other students for the sake of spiting anyone. Especially fellow students. Especially those being honored in a state-wide ceremony. This was a once in a lifetime thing for these kids and it was ruined for a quick photo op. Think it really affected Governor Walker’s morale? No, but I can bet that he was mad as hell for the athletes whose ceremony you interrupted. I know I am mad as hell for those athletes when I wasn’t even there and I’m VERY sympathetic to the plight of students, you know, from being one. Edit: Video added below

I’m most upset about the Special Olympics ceremony but I know many folks have chimed in on Facebook and over at North Park Street on the topic so I’ll refrain from repeating those.
And as a side note, the staffers who saw the zombies request werewolves, pixies, and ogres next. So, there’s something.

Make Our School A Prison

Yesterday, a letter began floating around the interwebz from a superintendent in Michigan to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

A profound letter, to be sure, and one that is just as applicable to Wisconsin as Michigan.  I will be sending this letter around to a few folks I know who are superintendents in Northern Wisconsin and encouraging a similar letter be drafted to our governor and our legislators.  It may be too late in this budget cycle, but any good lobbyist will tell you that the budget cycle starts before the previous one is even passed.

Let’s start getting into these offices now and getting this message onto the desks of folks, regardless of if they will still be there in two years *cough* recalls *cough*. The cycle starts now, let’s make our schools prisons so we can be treated like prisoners.


Thanks to Michael Moscicke for pointing this out to me. He will be a boon to ASM’s previously lacking knowledge and efficacy at the state level.

New Badger Partnership: Governor to Release Budget as Support for NBP Grows

Well, this is it.  Today at 4 pm CT, Governor Walker is expected to release his 2011-13 Biennium Budget, which could include many of the provisions that Chancellor Martin has advocated for in the New Badger Partnership.  This according to WisPolitics:

The UW System is looking at a cut of about $250 million with UW-Madison taking the biggest hit of the campuses. To help offset that reduced aid, Madison would be spun off from the rest of the system into an independent authority, according to sources.

This is nothing new.  I projected a $250 million cut to the UW System last week.

Support for the NBP is growing, too.

Badger Herald ed board:

As University of Wisconsin Chancellor Biddy Martin watched this state’s government face deeper and deeper financial woes with the approach of the 2011-2013 budget, she could have sat back and asked the Legislature to consider the university’s own difficult financial situation.

She could have asked for less cuts, for provisions that would keep tuition low and financial aid flowing. She could have asked for the now-modest framework laid out in the original New Badger Partnership last fall.

But as budget details began to emerge and the state’s cost-cutting measures spurred a crisis of national importance, something became clear: Now is the time to ask for everything UW needs, and to package that request in a way the state cannot ignore.

The result, tentatively laid out in draft documents, letters and conversations, is a proposal that would give UW public authority status and significantly greater freedom from state oversight. The details currently backed by Martin would separate the university from the UW System, allocate most state funding in a single block grant and allow an independent governing board to set university policy and tuition rates.

Badger Herald LTE on Biddy, “the true champion of transparency”:

On the opposite end of the spectrum has been Martin. She has spent hours on Twitter responding directly to the concerns raised by students who are trying to understand the implications of this new direction. When a memo between Martin and Walker showed the chancellor supporting Madison spinning off from the entire system, she was quick to provide details to the student body about her position. In a recent e-mail, Martin provided her presentation to the Board of Regents. In the e-mail, she made it clear the question of whether or not Madison should separate from the entire system “is not the question that has guided our work.” Instead Martin made it clear that she and the university are doing the best they can to “create innovative possibilities” to “deal with the extreme challenges” that face all of us — students, faculty and staff.

Several Research Professors in a Daily Cardinal LTE:

Even in difficult budgetary times, the state can continue to invest in its flagship university by providing the types of flexibilities sought by Chancellor Martin. We seek your enthusiasm and support for the major impact this initiative will embody, and encourage the Governor, the Legislature and UW System to help us realize the goals of the New Badger Partnership, for the benefit of our students and Wisconsin.

And then of course, we have our very own Adam Johnson.

Stay tuned to the Campus First as we explore the budget bill in depth.


The Beauty of Peaceful Protest

From the Madison City Police Department:

On behalf of all the law enforcement agencies that helped keep the peace on the Capitol Square Saturday, a very sincere thank you to all of those who showed up to exercise their First Amendment rights. You conducted yourselves with great decorum and civility, and if the eyes of the nation were upon Wisconsin, then you have shown how democracy can flourish even amongst those who passionately disagree. As of 5:00 p.m., no major incidents had been reported. There have been no arrests. However, discourse and discussion was – at times – loud and heated. That was to be expected. As previously indicated, the goal of law enforcement has been to provide a safe environment for democracy to take place. That goal has been realized for yet another day.

Go us.  The true beauty of democratic protest can’t be realized unless they are peaceful.  As I’ve said many times, the first group to become violent loses; let’s not be the losers.

We Can’t Repel a Tuition Increase of that Magnitude!

The recently leaked memo from the Chancellor to the Governor’s office includes a seventh page that was left off of our initial reading of it.  On that page, it includes an estimated breakdown of what would occur if we took a $50 million cut to our state funding.  Specifically:

In response to your questions and in accordance with the Governor’s instructions, we have considered how we would accommodate a $50 million base reduction with a 75 percent tuition offset.  Our analysis indicates that a tuition offset of this magnitude would require a 26 percent increase in undergraduate tuition over the course of the biennium.  This projection takes into account the completion of the Board of Regents-approved Madison Initiative for Undergraduates (MIU) phase-in, as well as , the tuition share of “cost to continue”.  We believe a tuition increase of this amount is unacceptable.

Unacceptable?  That’s putting it lightly.

Now, I have it on good authority that Governor Walker has been throwing around budget cuts to the UW System that are similar to those proposed by Governor Doyle half a decade ago.  That’s $250 million over two years! Madison typically consists of 38-40 percent of the system’s budget, so that puts us squarely at the $50 million mark each year.


Moreover, this cut would come from our base funding! Without getting into too much of the nitty-gritty details, the base funding is the hardest to get back, so any cuts to it are likely long term.

So what do we have?

  • A huge cut coming from a Governor who has proven his stubbornness and disdain for higher education (didn’t mention it once in his state of the state).
  • The money cut would be nearly impossible to get back.
  • A cut of that magnitude would equate to a 26% tuition increase (we’re talking UC system raises here!)

So what do we do?

The more and more I think about, the more and more I don’t want Mr. Walker making any more decisions about what goes on at this University.  As is common knowledge at this point, I voted for the guy (I’m unapologetic but at this point, he’s lost my vote), but he knows nothing about what makes the UW great.

I also can’t accept any outcome of these cuts; I don’t want a huge tuition increase, and I don’t want any decrease in the quality of our education.  The only solution I’ve heard to this conundrum?  Give us the authority to handle these cuts on our own.  Now I have no idea what will come out of the Governor’s proposed budget, but if we are to handle huge cuts, we need to be able to handle them in such a way as to side step their impact.

Even the Regent level decision making is suspect.  For years, we’ve been grouped into tuition increases with the other comprehensive schools.  No disrespect to Eau Claire or Milwaukee, but we have our own needs, and we should be able to accommodate them ourselves.

So let’s do this.

No more decisions about UW Madison from the capitol.  Let us make those decisions on a local level. No more micromanaging of the UW from the state.  Let us have the freedom to deal with inevitable budget cuts how we see fit. And no more being grouped into the category of the other UW schools. Let us address our own problems here on our campus.

We have no choice, General Calrissian.

Carl Fergus Spot On

Carl over at A Silent Majority:

Tomorrow, people associated with state and national Tea Party groups are going to descend on Madison in support of the Governor and to try to counter the protesters. I will be on one side of the protests, and I am sure that my blog partner will be on the other. At the end of the day, I plan on getting a beer with him, and continuing on as great friends. I am urging all of my friends who have spent days occupying the Capitol, and all of those there, to keep the rhetoric positive and constructive. Shout them down and drown them out if you want to, but please allow the counter-protesters to have the presence and safety that you have enjoyed, and that we all have a right to in this democracy. They are also our family members, our neighbors, and our friends.

Exactly.  Please keep things peaceful today.  The first side to make things violent loses.  Don’t ruin the democratic beauty we have at the capitol right now.