Governor holds listening session in Rhinelander
After invitation-only meeting at courthouse, Walker meets with media
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came to Rhinelander to hold a listening session Tuesday afternoon at the Oneida County Courthouse with the individuals in attendance there by invitation only.
Though that meeting was closed to others, including the media, Walker met at the courthouse with media members after the session concluded.
“We did our 64th listening session, and we had a nice group of people here at the courthouse,” Walker said. “A variety of (people attended) – four high school students from town, a teacher, a superintendent. We had small-business owners, County Board chair (Dave Hintz), local officials, the sheriff (Grady Hartman), a lot of folks with tourism, retirees, you name it.
“What we try to do is get a cross-section of people throughout the region, as we’ve done in each of the listening sessions before, and really for an hour and a half just talk about where would people like to see the state of Wisconsin over the next 20 years. This is part of our long-term planning process.”
Walker said much of the focus during the listening session was on education.
“(There was a lot of discussion) not only about traditional K-12 education, but also about worker training, how do people get the skills to pursue careers,” he said. “A lot of talk about how do we keep our talent here – whether it’s right out of high school after they go to college or some point in the future after they get a job or start a family – different ways of either keeping or encouraging young people to come back.
“(There was also) a lot of talk about tourism, as you can imagine. All that kind of tied together with kind of the trend of how do we take the things that we like about this state and build off of them and encourage future generations to do the same.”
Walker said he wants to continue working with State Rep. Rob Swearingen of Rhinelander, the two-term Republican who represents most of Oneida County and is running for re-election this year, on getting more state aid for school districts in the Northwoods.
“Something I helped Rob work on – we’re probably going to do some more of – is both transportation and sparsity aid,” Walker said. “That helps school districts like many of those here in the Northwoods. Because of the high property values around a lot of the lakes, the school aid formula…doesn’t give them the same amount of support that other school districts get, yet they have high transportation costs.”
Swearingen this fall is running in the 34th Assembly District race against Democrat Matt Michalsen, a Lake Tomahawk town supervisor and Lakeland Union High School social studies teacher.
When asked about legislative actions on the state level in recent years that have taken away local control, such as with shoreland zoning regulations, Walker said “the ultimate form of local control isn’t just local officials, it’s (also) local individuals.”
“I think there was a concern (about) how do you balance government control at the local level with the balance for individual property owners to have some rights in that regard, too,” he said. “If there needs to be adjustments, I think those are things we’ll look at in the future to balance between those two – having local control but also having local property owners be able to have some rights in the discussion as well.”
Local control has become an issue in this fall’s 12th State Senate district race with the Republican incumbent, Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, being criticized for votes he made in the legislature by his Democratic opponent, Bryan Van Stippen, a former Stevens Point City Council member who now lives in Deerbrook.
As for several counties and municipalities throughout the state, including Oneida County and the city of Rhinelander, which have passed the so-called “Just Fix It” resolution that calls for a funding solution for the state’s transportation system that includes “a responsible level of bonding and adjusts our user fees,” Walker, who opposes an increase in the state gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees, said the next state transportation budget includes “some of the biggest increases that local governments have seen in 20 years.”
“I think a lot of those resolutions were passed before the budget came out from the Department of Transportation,” he said. “I think that they expected that there wouldn’t be increases in there, but like I said there are some of the biggest that we’ve had for general transportation aids, local road improvement programs (and) local bridge programs. (We’ll) see some of the biggest (increases) in 20-25 years, depending on the program.
“I think there may be some that still want a gas tax (increase) for other things, but in terms of local roads and bridges, it’s been a long time since they’ve seen this kind of an increase.”
One project Walker said funding was tripled in the last two-year budget and he wants to further increase state support for is broadband Internet service.
“We’ve got to have a much larger increase, and what we want to do is make sure we do it smart,” he said. “The federal government has got a program where we’re at the second phase of that….What we want to make sure for the areas (carriers supported by the federal government) aren’t covering, that in the next two years we’re providing matching grants to help local governments and local communities put in place a fiber network that can lead to a high-speed Internet connection for everyone in the state.”