Scott Walker may be open to changes in criticized land ownership proposal

2013-03-07T08:50:00Z Scott Walker may be open to changes in criticized land ownership proposalROB SCHULTZ | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6487

Gov. Scott Walker will consider modifying a controversial provision in his budget proposal that would lift limits on how much land foreign investors can own in Wisconsin.

As the state's top agriculture official speculated that the proposal was prompted by the need for more investments in Wisconsin's paper industry, Walker's spokesman said the change is intended solely to clarify language that was confusing to potential foreign investors.

"This provision is a technical fix for areas of the law that conflict. It has nothing to do with ag, and it has nothing to do with the paper industry," Cullen Werwie said. "If legislators would like to make modifications to the budget proposal related to this specific issue, we're open to looking at their changes."

Walker is seeking to remove a 125-year-old statute that limits foreign investors from certain countries from owning no more than 640 acres in the state. The provision has drawn bipartisan criticism from legislators.

Ben Brancel, secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said he believed the provision was driven by the paper industry's need for wood to feed paper and pulp mills.

"Some of those take significant acreages of timber, and in order to find investments for a strong, viable paper industry, it may require some foreign investments," Brancel said. "That's probably what is driving the initiative in the budget."

State law already exempts many foreign investors from the land ownership limits under international treaties. But Werwie said last week the law needed to be changed because it conflicted with language in those treaties, specifically the General Agreement on Trade in Services, a 1995 World Trade Organization treaty.

Werwie said a recent call from a Croatian official to Walker's office highlighted how some foreign investors aren't aware that the law exempts countries from the limits if they have a treaty with the United States such as favored-nation status.

"I think it's causing confusion out there," Werwie said. "Then the effective result of doing what we did is nothing, other than to help (foreign investors) understand what applies to them."

Bill Oemichen, the president and CEO of the Cooperative Network and former top administrator of the trade and consumer protection arms of DATCP, called that a circular argument. The Cooperative Network has asked the governor to take the provision out of the $88 billion budget and have it debated separately.

"If people have tried to make (the law) sound more complicated than it is, that is an argument then to say that it needs to be gotten rid of," said Oemichen. "The fact of the matter is the law provides exemptions, and if the person just makes the showing that they are exempted, the law will allow them to go forward. It seems like the law does what it needs to do."

State Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, continued his call to remove the provision from the budget.

"It pays to enter into discussions with an open mind," said Schultz, a member of the Senate agriculture committee. "On the other hand, I think there are an awful lot of people who have worked very hard to keep Wisconsin the way it is with our rich, natural resources. Timber and farmland are two of those things. I think it's prudent to say let's hold up here and have a discussion."

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(13) Comments

  1. BJWideas
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    BJWideas - March 09, 2013 12:55 pm
    Why is this law in the budget? Ask yourself, who's behind this latest "smoke and mirrors" scheme? The press ought to be on top of this with more coverage. Outrageous!
  2. Acapitalidea
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    Acapitalidea - March 07, 2013 3:25 pm
    Scott Walker's idea is beyond crazy..
  3. lute
    Report Abuse
    lute - March 07, 2013 2:18 pm
    Is there any doubt that Walker is a modern day carpetbagger out to exploit our state resources for his personal gain? Moderate Wisconsin Republicans need to accept that he isn't really a member of their "team" and stop supporting him! Brand loyalty can only go so far- I mean, Republicans have families too, right?
  4. array1
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    array1 - March 07, 2013 1:13 pm
    walker also stated he wants to sell Wisconsin power companies. The Chinese will be first in line.
  5. SusanUpNorth
    Report Abuse
    SusanUpNorth - March 07, 2013 11:56 am
    How about the Penokee Range, where that "profitable" iron ore body is supposed to exist?

    Circular arguments are what this current administration excels at. Just read all the articles on how the Mining for Jobs bill adds environmental protections, when in truth it does not.

    Susan Sommer
    Phelps, WI
  6. Mr Mellow
    Report Abuse
    Mr Mellow - March 07, 2013 11:02 am
    So when Croatian officials call, Walker jumps?

    Wow, who knew the Croatian government was willing to help fund Walker's re-election?
  7. warmmidwest
    Report Abuse
    warmmidwest - March 07, 2013 10:43 am
    The governor's spokesperson sets up a nice straw man - who cares if it's the Chinese signing your paycheck for work at the Wisconsin paper mill that's going out of business; the Wisconsin nuclear power plant that's going out of business; or the iron ore / frac sand mining start up? You have a job, so shut up!

    It's becoming clear that this IS the jobs strategy of the majority party in power - a great rape-a-thon of Wisconsin resources to foreign, corporate investors who in turn fund the political campaigns of the REAL gov't "takers."
  8. bookman21
    Report Abuse
    bookman21 - March 07, 2013 9:53 am
    Most of Walker's ideas have not been his own and none of them have benefited ordinary working people in Wisconsin.
    Just keep raising out of state money for you national aspirations and stay out of our lives Scooter.
  9. paulwesterberg
    Report Abuse
    paulwesterberg - March 07, 2013 8:56 am
    Walker will sell off a bunch of state assets and claim that he gave people a tax break while balancing the budget. Then 2-3 years later we are deep in debt again.

    This is a band-aid fix that will cause more long-term problems.
  10. lute
    Report Abuse
    lute - March 07, 2013 8:49 am
    Did the idea for the change in the law come from Walker analyzing the state laws to find places to "clarify language"? I don't think so. Walker does what out of state groups tell him to do and then lies (or has his spokespeople lie) about the reasons. There is no way this is meant to benefit the people of Wisconsin- that's not how Walker rolls.
  11. AnAmericanGirl
    Report Abuse
    AnAmericanGirl - March 07, 2013 7:30 am
    The 125-year-old statute that limits foreign investors from certain countries from owning no more than 640 acres in the state is a good law. If We The People weren't taxed up the wazoo, we would have more $ to invest in our state. This is how ALL the laws on international land ownership should read, plus the law should include a clause prohibiting the same corp from using pseudo names ;in order to obtain more land that the law states.

    Read more:
  12. Superpatriot
    Report Abuse
    Superpatriot - March 07, 2013 6:58 am
    Scott Walker is already selling off Wisconsin to the highest bidder. Might as well make it official and open to all with no limits.
  13. swami
    Report Abuse
    swami - March 07, 2013 6:29 am
    The Chinese Government Is Buying Up Economic Assets And Huge Tracts Of Land All Over The United States.

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