With summer recall elections looming for a half dozen Republican state senators in Wisconsin, it’s interesting to watch how some legislators are attempting to position themselves against rising unpopularity. In an effort to have voters remember them for something besides the enabling of Governor Walker’s attack on workers and local governments with their party line votes, some are breaking ranks in on a Walker-proposed rollback of recycling in Wisconsin.
It’s a convenient enough place to act independently. Who was out there staking out the anti-recycling turf in a big way before Walker came out with his assault on it, anyway? Recycling is not a lot of money in the big picture; about $32 million annually. A lot of it is paid for by landfill tipping fees, but the guv would like to divert some of that funding for other things — (so much for all the howling about the need to direct funds toward the purpose for which they were ostensibly collected.) Walker’s proposal is another slap in the face to the environment and local governments among others that are far more significant. Most of those are already done deals, in spite of anything that was said in two-minute increments at public hearings on the state budget.
Maybe the recycling stuff was giveaway item all along. It doesn’t even sound like the guv likes his own idea about it very much anymore.
Never mind the draconian cuts to school districts, medical assistance to the poor, shared revenue to local governments or cuts to higher education. Forget about the rush to pass tax cuts to corporations and big, wet kisses to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce like gutting consumer protections in tort law and other measures that were taken up in a special “jobs session” of the legislature first and had little to do with jobs.
Don’t worry about the hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs that Walker eschewed by refusing a high-speed rail link – money that will now go elsewhere and that he’s already trying to recover a bit of for some needed rail work that would have been included. Pay no attention to the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be sucked out of local economies by Walker’s extremist agenda. Ignore taking hundreds of dollars each out of the budgets of low-income households via cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit and new charges for medical care that they already can’t afford to in order help pay for tax cuts to the more well off, when they run out of loopholes.
But the matter of giving Wisconsin’s people something to think about every couple of weeks when they take their glass, plastic, newspapers, batteries and used motor oil out to the curb might be different. Tossing a couple of million tons of recyclable materials into landfills every year instead of sending them back for productive uses isn’t something that only comes up at budget time. It’s something we teach our kids and that we believe in. It’s something that extends the life of landfills and conserves natural resources. It even provides jobs. And maybe all of that turns out to be a little too much for some of the more shaky members of the GOP caucus to get behind, especially since gutting recycling isn’t a very smart thing to do anyway.
But it’s important to remember that these folks have done a lot of damage already and it takes a serious case of either amnesia or Stockholm syndrome to look past it. As tone deaf as the guv’s recycling proposal really is, it’s hardly worth a bullet point in a lengthening rap sheet of impudent initiatives since January. Hundreds of thousands of people didn’t show up at the capitol to talk about recycling and tens of thousands of people wouldn’t have signed recall petitions over it, either. Republican legislators are the people who have been making it all possible and in fact, their amazing ability to work with this governor has made a lot of people think that gridlock is something Wisconsin should now be aspiring to reach.
It will be wonderful if enough Republicans are willing to pose for holy pictures with recycling containers and local officials between now and July to save a pretty good way of doing things. While simply abstaining from vandalizing a successful program may seem like relatively dubious accomplishment, it looks impressively reasonable in comparison to a host of other actions in the Fitzgerald-led houses of the Wisconsin legislature and the gubernatorial term of Scott Walker.
But let’s not confuse simply “not screwing something else up” with real progress, legislative leadership or political courage. It’s none of those things. Wisconsin agreed on recycling and established it as an ethic more than two decades back. That’s when the real leadership was shown.