So the state to the north of Illinois has been the scene of many interesting expressions of the New America men like Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers want to create. From dunning organized labor to sneakily manipulating education funding right and left, the Walker Klan has been using Wisconsin as a petri dish for hard right politics.
Of course we know the success they’re all having down in Kansas where Republican right-winger Governor Sam Brownback made this giant pledge to add 100,000 new jobs. Through budget cuts and austerity measures the state dropped to 44th in creation of new jobs.
It seems that wishing new jobs into place is actually much more difficult than respecting the middle class and paying wages that actually provide demand for goods and services. That’s how economies grow.
See, there’s this thing called investment in the community that has visible, verifiable benefits. When you create environments where people have the money to support businesses, those businesses actually make money. And when they make money or need to meet demand, they actually hire more people to service that demand.
Some people claim that cutting taxes on businesses is the best way to create that environment. They argue giving more money back to businesses enables them to spend more on employees. But that argument entirely ignores the reasons why businesses are in business in the first place. They want to keep all the money they make, not spend it hiring new employees as some sort of altruistic expression of communal goodness.
The argument that giving more money back to the “jobs creators” proved emphatically hollow during the Bush administration. The economy crashed despite significant tax cuts for the very wealthiest people and a diet of healthy corporate welfare support for the big industries. What did that do? It fed a profit-hungry machine that watched with bemused detachment as millions of people lost their investments, their jobs and their security. Banks would not even make loans to small businesses. People suffered while the very wealthiest, insulated by size and tightly focused prosperity, ignored the needs of the nation.
So what are some of the solutions to community investment in America? How do you bring money into a region that actually fuels jobs and even creates demand?
You would think Wisconsin has that long figured out. As one of the more attractive tourism states in the nation, the state has long been the beneficiary of money flowing into Wisconsin from states like Illinois, where vacationers take the Money Pipeline of Interstate 90 up from Chicago to Madison and all points beyond. Half the population in northern Wisconsin on a summer day is from Illinois. Millions of dollars flow into Wisconsin year round from tourism. Fishing. Snowmobiling. Skiing. Bicycling.
Those tourism dollars flow north and stay in the state. Take a trip anywhere in the state on a summer weekend and Illinois plates are everywhere. Taliesin in Spring Green. Wisconsin Dells. Milwaukee. Eagle River and all the fishing resorts across the northern tier.
And significantly, in recent years, there are thousands of bicyclists who travel north to ride Wisconsin roads. Events like The Wright Stuff and the Horribly Hilly 100 bring thousands of cyclists into the state where they spend money, stay in hotels, dine at restaurants and more.
The state also (originally) recognized the benefits of cycling for its own citizens. The capitol of Madison is one of those places were bikes have been encouraged by construction of bike lanes. There are clearly marked lanes to and from the suburbs to the city. There are recreational bike trails around the lakes. These see heavy use.
All this bike traffic is intelligent community investment. People who bicycle spend money locally on restaurants, goods and services. This is how America once operated. This is how America once prospered.
Bicycle riders also happen to emit far less carbon dioxide and environmentally harmful emissions than cars, and reduce traffic congestion when commuting. But perhaps that’s where bicyclist are running afoul of certain economic interests who want to see the world structured around their personal benefit.
Perhaps Scott Walker and Klan hate the idea that bicyclists use the roads because it doesn’t flow money to a specific sector of the economy.
How is that being expressed? The new state budget in Wisconsin slashes funding for community investment in bike trails and even proposes a tax on riding bikes. Talk about hypocrisy for a supposedly tax-opposed Republican!
Here’s what Spencer Black of the Madison-based Cap Times newspaper wrote about the Walker budget:
And you might think, at least in saner times, that bicycling is one of those things we could all agree on, regardless of party. Even Walker’s Department of Tourism says on its website that Wisconsin “boasts a biking friendly culture and is clearly big on biking as a way to keep visitors healthy, happy, and coming back to bike time and time again.”
But these are not sane times. If Walker and his Republican allies in the Legislature have their way, the Department of Tourism will have to delete that boast.
Before this anti-biker state budget is even passed, our reputation for biking is taking a hit. The League of American Bicyclists recently knocked Wisconsin out of the top five states for biking. When Walker took office, Wisconsin was ranked second best in the nation — this year we’ve dropped to No. 9.
No more trail funding, no state funding for community bike projects, no consideration of bikes in road design. And if that isn’t enough, the state Legislature is now considering a tax on bicycles. That $25-a-bike tax wouldn’t even go to biking but would go to road construction — roads that would no longer have to even consider bikes.
Trickle down something…
One can only imagine the true agenda behind such stupidity. Do the Koch Brothers find it offensive that bicyclists use less of their oily products?
There have been precedents where dis-investment in transit friendly infrastructure has been accomplished in the name of “progress.” Back when Illinois had a comprehensive trolley system in the western suburbs of Chicago, and especially in the Tri-cities where I live, people could get place to place without cars. The trolley system was bought up and closed down by interests that did not like competition with cars and oil and getting someplace with more ease.
That’s the direction we’re headed when the nation succumbs to dunderheaded leadership like Scott Walker. Those political leaders bark for the treats they get from their moneyed masters. Their followers all fall in line like a pack of stupid dogs at the thought of trickle-down something or other.
The goal of all these political dog treats is not entirely clear, other than to claim that prosperity is somehow going to flow our way in the end. But when it involves the slashing of funds for cycling infrastructure, and the community dis-investment it represents, it feels more like someone is pissing on our back and telling us it’s raining.
It becomes clear that if this kind of community dis-investment continues, one day we’ll all find ourselves in a Dog Pen of austerity with no place left to go. And maybe that’s the way men like Scott Walker and his Moneymakers want it. Just a bunch of cyclists trapped in a pen pissing all over each other. Wouldn’t that make the selfish bastards who hate to Share the Road really happy?
A pissed off society
Certainly the attitude toward cyclists on the road is not much better at times. Just last week a friend of mine pedaling through downtown Batavia was accosted from behind by a giant black pickup in the 350 range. The guy did not like sharing Wilson Street with a cyclist and pulled up behind my friend to lay on the horn. Then when he pulled over to yell at my buddy he got all contrite when he got out of his truck and realized that there are human beings out there in the world who ride bikes. Yet while we stood there talking with him another guy in a black pickup did a u-turn just to honk and yell at us. He did not even see the original incident. “Get off the f****** road!” he yelled.
Seriously, you’d think we really could all agree that bicycling is a decent idea to support as a community benefit. But you get a few selfish twits complaining that they have to wait 30 seconds to get around a pack of cyclists on a Wisconsin back road and suddenly there are movements to ban and prevent events like The Wright Stuff Century from taking place.
Forget that these events bring literally hundreds of thousands of dollars into communities like Dodgeville and Spring Green and Mount Horeb. Forget that these towns desperately need tourism because the highways and bypasses the state built around some of them gutted the downtowns and sent traffic flying past with no chance to witness what local businesses have to offer.
Cycling definitively reverses all that cost of progress. It brings people back into communities where real people live. It brings money to local businesses. That creates jobs because it engenders demand.
But people like Scott Walker refuse to see that because they have this idea that the only way to show political guts is by gutting the communities they were elected to serve. If that’s the kind of America where you want to live, good luck. There are quite a few of us that simply want to enjoy life, keep fit and support your local business in the process.
That sounds pretty American to me.