As reported in the Wisconsin State Journal last Sunday, there's a growing suspicion that the Department of Natural Resources under Gov. Scott Walker has morphed into an agency that makes major decisions based not on what's best for Wisconsin's environmental future, but on pure unadulterated politics.
Two recent departmental decisions were used as examples. The first was the letting of a $500,000 grant to a well-connected Republican front group — United Sportsmen of Wisconsin — although it had flimsy credentials and even fibbed about having a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. The outcry against the contract became so loud that Walker himself told the DNR last week to yank the grant.
The second was the decision by the DNR to terminate a longtime arrangement with the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation to run the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center in Poynette. The federation, which has sometimes been critical of the DNR's actions, had received $239,000 a year to conduct wildlife tours and seminars mainly for Wisconsin school children.
The Walker appointees in charge of DNR, of course, called the two actions purely coincidental and denied that politics had anything to do with either decision.
This administration's record of chalking up "pants on fire" ratings from fact checkers may lead one to be a bit skeptical of that claim.
What was even more interesting in the State Journal story was a quote attributed to the Assembly's leading mining advocate, Sen. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst. Tiffany, who was a key legislator in the fight to weaken environmental safeguards so the mine could proceed, had the audacity to insist that all state grants to nonprofits ought to be ended.
They're a drain on taxpayers, he told the newspaper, and often the nonprofits don't do the Legislature's bidding.
Here's just one more example of the thinking of the ideologues who run state government these days. They'd do away with grants to nonprofit organizations that help with preserving parkland and promoting conservation efforts.
But they never question lavish grants and gifts and favors to big corporations like the GTAC mine owners. In fact, as we saw earlier this year in the audit of Scott Walker's Economic Development Corporation, they don't even keep tabs on where the money is going.
To them, somehow corporate welfare isn't a drain to taxpayers.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com