Hike funding

The anonymous GOP lawmaker who canceled park funding is a coward | Editorials

A coward sits on the budget committee of the Legislative Assembly. A senator or GOP representative killed funding for a land conservation project and doesn’t have the backbone to take ownership of that decision. It is a sad day for democracy when elected officials hide their official acts from the people.

This is 131 acres of stunning undeveloped land along the shores of Lake Michigan known as the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs. It is near Port Washington, about 80 miles northeast of Madison. The site has towering cliffs from which anyone can admire incredible sunrises before a shaded hike through Cedar Gorge.

Anyone could, that is, if conservationists get what they want. As reported per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust wants to buy the land and protect it as a park for the people of Wisconsin. The land trust gained strength after several development proposals failed.

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The lakefront acreage is expensive, and the land trust has until September to find $5 million to buy the land. He has about $4 million so far.

The state Department of Natural Resources had approved a $2 million Knowles-Nelson Stewardship grant for the purchase when fundraising was not as advanced. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee had to approve the grant, but a member of the committee blocked it anonymously.

No one says who blocked the money. The four Democrats on the committee insist they did not. The 12 Republicans are mom. The identity of the legislator remains a mystery.

It’s bad enough that a legislator can blow up funding for a worthwhile conservation project. That the legislator can do this in secret is outrageous. It is called a public office because it is supposed to be accountable and transparent to the public.

Maybe voters will agree that the project didn’t deserve the money. Maybe they won’t. Whichever side one falls on, there is no longer any possibility of punishing or rewarding the responsible legislator, no possibility of pressing for a change of heart or standing firm.

Whoever is responsible should be clear and explain why. Without this transparency, the public can only speculate as to why this happened. Does the legislator have a conflict of interest? Does the legislator simply hate parks? Nobody knows.

The guilt goes beyond a single unnamed Republican lawmaker. Some members of the committee must know who it was. Certainly, at least one of the co-chairs — Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam and Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green — knows that.

Their silence perpetuates an unwritten system that only serves lawmakers who are afraid to take a strong stand. The cost is their constituents’ right to know and the government’s responsibility. But hey, they might want their co-workers to support them someday when they anonymously block something from being funded. Better not to make waves.

The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust still needs to raise $1 million. If not, a anonymous buyer would be waiting to jump in, buy the property and develop it.

The state created stewardship grants for exactly this type of project, but some anonymous coward decided he or she knew better. Now, it’s up to the goodwill of donors and even children selling lemonade to raise funds. If they fail, what could have become a gem of Wisconsin’s open spaces will likely become just one more upscale housing enclave on the lake.

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