Walker is absolutely right on this one.
With his proposed 13-year moratorium on land conservation purchases, Gov. Scott Walker is charging straight into territory that Assembly Republicans staked out last October as off-limits.
Since 1990 the stewardship program has preserved parcels of wild land for parks, hunting and hiking, as well as timber operations that feed the state’s paper industry. But Walker says the state has borrowed too much money to finance the purchases as budgeted debt payments peak this year at more than $89.9 million.
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, predicted support in his chamber for placing land purchases on hold. But in the Assembly, Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said it wasn’t acceptable.
The Stewardship Program is flawed in its conception. Think of it… it is a program whereby the state empowers a group of bureaucrats to go out and find land for the state to buy to “preserve” it. But the state borrows to make these purchases, thus driving up the state’s debt. And, to top it off, the land is then taken off the tax rolls, thus decreasing tax revenue for state state and local governments that depend on it, thus forcing higher property taxes on everyone else to make up the difference. All of this to the tune that now the state taxpayers are spending nearly $90 million PER YEAR on a mortgage for this property. And that figure goes up every year because the program is designed to buy more property every year whether it makes sense or not.
Walker is right to stop this program in its tracks. He should go a step further and look for what ill-advised purchases could be sold back into the private economy where they can produce tax revenue and reduce the state’s debt. After all, nearly one-fifth of Wisconsin’s land is already set aside for conservation. That is more than enough.
There are circumstances where it may make sense for the state to purchase private land in the name of conservation. These opportunities should be individually evaluated on the merits and the legislature should vote to appropriate the funds on an individual basis if they so choose. There is nothing stopping the legislature from doing that should the Stewardship Program be shelved. Some of them just think it is easier to outsource those decisions to an unelected bureaucracy.
There are few worse programs in government than one that is designed to create more debt for the purpose of taking property out of the private economy while further reducing the available taxable land. End it.