By Chris Wright
Republican candidate for State Assembly, 62nd District
The recent coverage of the disagreement over the county‘s use of inmates to cut medians has shed light on what happens when those elected to manage the state’s budget ignore their duties.
We pay one of the highest levels of gas taxes in the country. This was made easier to deal with by being assured that this money would be used to maintain the transportation system. However, time and time again the transportation fund has been raided to pay for pet projects or to “balance” the state budget.
We have seen the results of this on a larger scale with the Zoo Interchange and now the Hoan Bridge, which requires nets to catch the crumbling concrete.
This also is why funding was cut to maintain medians along state highways. This time last year many county residents were complaining about the appearance of the medians, which were beginning to resemble hayfields. Unfortunately, the transportation aid provided by the state only funded one cutting.
In response to the concerns of the voters, County Executive Bill McReynolds and the Racine County Board made what I would consider a fiscally responsible decision: they used inmates to cut the grass. With the use of inmate labor, mowing could be done multiple times with the same amount of funding.
The Journal Times interviewed the inmates at the time who said they liked the opportunity to get out and work. We have used workers from the transitional facility in the Village of Sturtevant to maintain the parks and other jobs under the supervision of our DPW. It allows us to do more work with the same amount of money and gives these men an opportunity to contribute to the community.
While I appreciate the union’s concern for its members, it is important to realize that it would have at most meant one week’s work for one employee. The available funding just did not allow for more than that. The union should not be upset with the county, but with those who crafted and voted for the state budget -- which has continually cut funding for transportation aid. This would include both Sen. John Lehman and Rep. Cory Mason, who both serve on the Joint Finance Committee, which develops the budget, and then voted in favor of the budget.
It appears that they had little concern for what their financial decisions did to your members.
I look forward to the possibility of the advisory referendum proposed by County Executive McReynolds this week. This referendum would ask voters if the State Constitution should be amended to outlaw the use of transportation funding for unrelated items.
This state and country were founded on the idea of a government by the people and for the people. Somewhere along the way our current leadership in Madison has lost sight of this. While this will be an advisory referendum, I encourage those men and women who make up the next Legislature to take the voter’s wishes to heart.
Wright is a trustee of the Village of Sturtevant. He is running against Democrat Cory Mason for the 62nd District Assembly seat.
County Executive Bill McReynolds sent his own explanation of the advisory referendum to the Journal Times.