- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 26

While Trump dithers, Asian carp threaten Great Lakes

Asian carp have breached an electric barrier near Chicago and been discovered just nine miles from Lake Michigan, raising fears that an ecological disaster awaits the Great Lakes fishery.

And so far, the Trump administration is sitting on a plan that might stop the invasive fish.

The president must release that plan, even if Illinois politicians and business interests continue to try to block it.

Asian carp can grow to up to 100 pounds and eat 20 percent of their body weight in plankton every day, which could devastate a Great Lakes fishery worth billions of dollars, the Journal Sentinel’s Dan Egan has reported.

Last Thursday, a carp more than two feet long was pulled from the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. While a regional committee working on the problem says there is no evidence yet that “a reproducing population of Asian carp currently exists” in the lakes, the discovery is ominous. Many biologists believe the carp could establish themselves in warmer, shallower bays and harbors if not in open waters.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has studied ways to use the Brandon Road navigation lock to establish a killing zone but barge operators in Illinois are opposed. So is Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti who was sharply critical of the idea in a commentary in the Chicago Tribune in February. “Building new bells and whistles at Brandon Road will cost too many taxpayer dollars,” she wrote.

Considering the cost to the Great Lakes economy could be far more than that, Sanguinetti appears to be just carrying water for her state’s barge business. As Egan noted, this is the second time an Asian carp has been found on the lake side of the electric barriers, which were poorly designed to begin with and have a spotty record of stopping carp.

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers last week asked the administration to release the Army Corps plan, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said she had introduced legislation requiring the report be released. “There is no excuse for any further delay - the Trump administration must release the Brandon Road study so we can get to work on a permanent plan to stop Asian carp from ever devastating our Great Lakes,” she said, according to Egan’s report.

We agree. The Great Lakes don’t belong to a group of barge operators, to a lieutenant governor from Illinois - or even, thank goodness, to Donald Trump. They belong to all of us, and it’s up to all of us to do whatever it takes to protect them.

Trump should order release of the Army Corps’ plan immediately and get on with the tough job of protecting the lakes from this voracious invasive species.

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Wisconsin State Journal, June 25

How the state budget debate boils down

Wisconsin isn’t getting its state budget done on time.

That’s largely because Gov. Scott Walker and the state Senate disagree with the Assembly on how to pay for transportation needs.

Or more precisely, they differ on whether to pay for what they spend now, versus pushing more of that cost into the future.

The Republican-run Assembly, led by Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, wants to pay for maintaining and building good roads, bridges and other transportation needs with real money.

The GOP-led Senate, led by Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, wants to whip out the state’s credit card again, increasing the Republican governor’s already excessive $500 million in borrowing for roads to $850 million over the next two years.

We’re rooting for the Assembly to prevail in its push for fiscal responsibility and a strong transportation system - even if that requires a modest increase in the gas tax or higher fees on heavy trucks.

We also urge both sides in the state budget debate to seek permission from the federal government for open-road tolling on the interstate highways in Wisconsin. Leaders in both houses and Gov. Walker are close to agreeing on the need for limited toll roads, which would bring in more revenue from Illinois tourists and over-the-road trucks, not just Wisconsin motorists.

Illinois and many other states have toll roads, so most travelers would hardly notice limited tolls here.

It’s only fair for drivers to pay for the roads they use. Wisconsin hasn’t increased its gas tax or registration fee in a decade or more. Instead, state leaders have gone on a borrowing binge to get by, while delaying important projects.

If top lawmakers and the governor don’t agree on a state budget by June 30, the end of the state’s fiscal year, state government won’t shut down. Spending will continue at current levels.

Still, Vos and his budget committee leader, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, are right to force the issue of fiscal responsibility and the importance of good roads to Wisconsin’s economy.

“We’ve had the same discussion multiple budgets in a row now, and I think our position is right now we’re going to stop having this reliance on bonding,” Nygren said last week. “We need to come up with a solution to pay our bills rather than continue to borrow on our kids’ futures.”

He’s right.

Gov. Walker says $500 million in borrowing would be the lowest amount for transportation since the 2001-2003 budget. But that’s only because borrowing for roads soared under Walker’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who took office in 2003. And now Walker has borrowed more for roads during his first six years than Doyle did during his first six years.

That can’t continue.

Walker notes that Doyle raided the transportation fund to pay for schools. But all of that money - and then some - has been paid back from the state’s general fund to the transportation fund.

Gov. Walker has refused to raise fees on motorists to keep pace with inflation. And that decision has led to Wisconsin roads being ranked as some of the worst in the nation.

The Assembly should continue to apply the brakes to irresponsible debt.

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The Janesville Gazette, June 26

A radical cure for Congress: openness

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson delivered blunt criticism of the Senate health bill Sunday, suggesting senators need more time to study the nation’s health care system in order to fix it.

“What I’d like to do is slow the process down, get the information, go through the problem-solving process, actually reduce these premiums that have been artificially driven up because of Obamacare mandates,” Johnson said during an interview on “Meet the Press.” ”So, let’s actually fix the problem.”

Only during this over-politicized moment in U.S. history would any suggestion of holding public hearings to gather more information seem like a radical idea, but Johnson seems to have broken with leadership by proposing his colleagues do their due diligence before voting on a bill to upend the health care system.

The Senate and House hold hearings on a wide range of topics - from farming to housing to banking - on a daily basis. Is it too much to ask Congress to do the same for health care, spending on which now makes up one-sixth of the nation’s economy?

Given the high stakes for the many Americans who depend on the availability of health care providers and insurers, it’s almost scandalous that Republican leadership should vote on this measure before the Fourth of July recess after drafting the legislation in secret and giving senators only a few days to digest it.

The passage of the American Health Care Act in the House - culminating in a premature celebration in the Rose Garden with President Trump - was a perfect demonstration of how not to run an open government. But the Senate is supposed to be the more deliberative of the two bodies, driven more by objective analysis than political passions. The Senate has a reputation of moving more slowly than the House because of rules that give greater say to the minority party.

Americans deserve answers to questions about both the Senate and House bills. Both bills are being advanced on the assumption that Obamacare is a failure, but it’s not entirely clear why it’s failing and whether policy changes could shore up Obamacare.

Let’s hear from insurance executives to discover why some companies have pulled out of health care exchanges and what could be done to keep them in these exchanges, at least in the interim.

Johnson discussed on “Meet the Press” the creation of a high-risk pool to provide insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Democrats have characterized these pools as inadequate, but high-risk pools are worth exploring. Could such pools be tailored to provide affordable coverage for those in the pools and reduce premiums for those outside of them? The Senate should hold hearings on this topic to learn whether successful models exist.

Take seriously a Medicare-for-all option. Many Democrats say the nation is headed in this direction, while Republicans are refusing to entertain the possibility. Medicare is a proven system for seniors, and the pros and cons of expanding it should be openly discussed.

Along these lines, Republicans should hold hearings on the potential fallout from their proposal to scale back Medicaid funding. What would be the effect of these cuts, both on people expected to lose coverage and health care providers that accept Medicaid payments? People’s health care needs won’t disappear just because their coverage goes away. Rural hospitals and other providers serving a disproportionate number of patients on Medicaid could face financial hardships under the Republican bills.

For his part, Johnson blames Obamacare for too many of the nation’s health care problems. He forgets that insurance premiums were skyrocketing before Obamacare’s implementation.

But Johnson is right in calling for Congress to slow down. Political calculus always plays a role in legislating, but it shouldn’t entirely consume the policy-making process.

It’s not an exaggeration to say lives are at stake regardless of what type of health care legislation passes Congress. The least Congress can do is understand what it’s voting on and explain the bill’s likely effects.

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