March 1, 2012 by Rebecca Kemble
On Wednesday Scott Walker thanked the Wisconsin Realtors Association for their support by signing a massive wetlands deregulation bill at their convention in Madison. Since Walker began raising funds for his recall campaign last November, individual realtors have already contributed $75,504 to his war chest. They ponied up $378,161 for his 2010 campaign. Add to that the organized PAC contributions and the total investment that realtors have made in Scott Walker over the past two years pushes half a million.
That’s a bargain for what they received in return. No longer will developers be fettered with regulations stopping them from filling in and building on wetlands. With this new law, they can simply purchase land somewhere else in the state through a “mitigation bank” and make another wetland as a way to compensate for the loss.
This scheme is a double winner for realtors. Mitigation banks create a brand new market for low-value swamp land. In the public hearing on this bill in front of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Michelle Litjens (R-Oshkosh) was thrilled at the prospect of making money trading wetland for wetland. Litjens, who has personal business interests in real estate, said that many of her constituents who own property in low-lying areas are very interested in this idea.
Tracy Hames, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association said, “This bill passed without the endorsement of a single leader from the wetland professional community or any major statewide sportsman’s or environmental group.” He added, “People need jobs, but they need wetlands too. That is if they want flood protection, clean water and more and better ducks.”
As the bill reached the floors of the Senate and Assembly it was dogged by procedural missteps. In the Senate, Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) objected to a third reading after debate on amendments, which meant they couldn’t vote on the bill at that time. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald was so upset that he called them back into session at the earliest possible moment to vote on it: 12:01am on Valentine’s Day. Protesters quickly organized a pajama party and packed the Senate gallery at midnight to witness the vote.
The following week the bill came to the Assembly floor. There was not much debate and the Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) quickly called a voice vote, even though the Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) had included this bill on a list of those he requested to be roll call votes. Before anyone knew it, the vote was taken and messaged to the Senate.
Summing up his assessment of the bill which he dubbed the “Flood our Families Act,” Rep Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) said, “The Flood our Families Act means more Wisconsin homes and families will be at risk from flooding. Allowing more people to build in wetlands today creates more flood victims and disaster costs tomorrow.”
Evidently, realtors aren’t too concerned about “The American Dream” after the deal is done and their money is made.