Dispatches (V): Wisconsin - Open for Business or For Sale?
In light of the provision to sell off power plants in Wisconsin under no-bid contracts, this photo caught my eye:
Source: Capital Times
From the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal (2/25):
Under the budget-repair bill passed by the Assembly on Friday, no bids would be required for the state to sell up to 37 heating and cooling plants across the state.
The bill would empower the secretary of the state Department of Administration to sell the plants, which primarily serve University of Wisconsin campuses, including those in Madison and Milwaukee, as well as state prisons and other facilities.
In a change from a similar proposal that Republican lawmakers sought six years ago, the bill stripped a requirement that the Public Service Commission review whether the sale is in the public interest.
Now, why would a no-bid provision be written into the bill? We don't know because:
In a news conference this week, Walker declined to address the no-bid aspect of the bill, but insisted the state wouldn't rush into a deal.
"We're going to have an open and accountable process so that everyone knows who's interested in that, and what the process is," Walker said. "This only gives us the option. We're only going to move forward on this if it's good for the taxpayers and good ultimately for the ratepayers in this state."
A Wisconsin utility leader and the head of a utility watchdog group both questioned why any private company would be interested in the plants.
"They'd be lucky to get one bid," said Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens' Utility Board, a utility customer group. "But the governor's policy is still wrong. No bid is not good."
Higley said he believes the state would be hard-pressed to find a lower-cost option than running the plants itself, because its borrowing costs are lower than a private company's, and it doesn't need to earn a profit on its investment.
"Any private company is going to want to earn a return on that investment, and the only way they would end up doing that is to charge higher prices for the steam or the electricity, and that means higher costs for Wisconsin," Higley said.
One explanation comes from this person:
Jeff Plale, a former Democratic state senator who was hired by the Walker administration to run the Division of State Facilities, said he didn't think a bidding process is appropriate for the sale of the heating plants. "A bid implies that there is a value in the physical asset," he said.
This Milwaukee Sentinel Journal editorial outlines the circumstances under which Mr. Plale was appointed by Governor Walker.
A 2005 Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimate placed the "total value of all the plants at $235.9 million, offset by $83.9 million in debt" . I haven't seen any estimates pertaining to the present, aside from Mr. Plale's implied zero value.
For local flavor, here's one of the plants in question that I drive by every other day. (Plans to switch to gas and biomass power were recently terminated by Governor Walker. )
Charter Street power plant, Madison, WI
Finally, here is the entire transcript of the Walker-faux Koch conversation, courtesy of the Wisconsin State Journal:
The following is the transcript of the conversation between Gov. Scott Walker and who he thinks is billionaire donor David Koch, although it is actually blogger Ian Murphy, who goes by the name Buffalo Beast.
Walker: Hi; this is Scott Walker.
Murphy: Scott! David Koch. How are you?
Walker: Hey, David! I’m good. And yourself?
Murphy: I’m very well. I’m a little disheartened by the situation there, but, uh, what’s the latest?
Walker: Well, we’re actually hanging pretty tough. I mean-you know, amazingly there’s a much smaller group of protesters-almost all of whom are in from other states today. The State Assembly is taking the bill up-getting it all the way to the last point it can be at where it’s unamendable. But they’re waiting to pass it until the Senate’s in-the Senate Democrats, excuse me, the assembly Democrats have about a hundred amendments they’re going through. The state Senate still has the 14 members missing but what they’re doing today is bringing up all sorts of other non-fiscal items, many of which are things that members in the Democratic side care about. And each day we’re going to ratchet it up a little bit. The Senate majority leader had a great plan he told about this morning-he told the Senate Democrats about — and he’s going to announce it later today, and that is: The Senate organization committee is going to meet and pass a rule that says if you don’t show up for two consecutive days on a session day, in the state Senate, the Senate chief clerk-it’s a little procedural thing here, but-can actually have your payroll stopped from being automatically deducted-
Walker: -into your checking account and instead-you still get a check, but the check has to be personally picked up and he’s instructing them-which we just loved-to lock them in their desk on the floor of the state Senate.
Murphy: Now you’re not talking to any of these Democrat bastards, are you?
Walker: Ah, I-there’s one guy that’s actually voted with me on a bunch of things I called on Saturday for about 45 minutes, uh, mainly to tell him that while I appreciate his friendship and he’s worked with us on other things, to tell him, well, I wasn’t going to budge.
Murphy: Goddamn right!
Walker: Mainly, because I thought he’s about the only reasonable one over there and I figured if I talked to him, he’d go back to the rest of the gang and say, you know, ‘I’ve known Walker for 20 years, he’s not budging.’
Murphy: Now, what’s his name again?
Walker: His name is Tim Cullen.
Murphy: All right, I’ll have to give that man a call.
Walker: Well, actually, in his case I wouldn’t call him and I’ll tell you why: He’s pretty reasonable but he’s not one of us, um, so I would let him be. I think he is in a position where he can maybe motivate that caucus, but he’s not a, he’s not an ally, he’s just a, he’s just a guy. He was in the Senate years ago. He was actually the Senate (word missing) here back in the ’80s and Tommy Thompson hired him to be the head of Health and Human Services. He went into the private sector, made real money and, uh, became a little more more open-minded.
Walker: And last fall, he got elected to the Senate seat he was in 25 years ago. He’s kind of one of these guys who, he really doesn’t care, he’s not there for political reasons, he’s just trying to get something done. So he’s good to reach out to for me, but he’s not a, he’s not a conservative. He’s just a pragmatist.
Murphy: Now who could we get to budge on this, uh, collective bargaining?
Walker: Well, I think in the end, a couple of things are one, if the, uh, if the — I think the paycheck will have an impact. Secondly, one of the things we’re looking at next, we’ll probably announce in the next day or two, we’ve been working with our Republican leaders in the Legislature is, we may, we’re still waiting on an opinion to see if the unions have been paying to put these guys up out of state, we think there’s at minimum an ethics violation if not an outright felony.
Murphy: Well, they’re probably putting hobos in suits.
Murphy: That’s what we do. Sometimes.
Walker: Well, I mean paying for the senators to be put up. I know they’re paying for these guy to be-I mean, people can pay for protesters to come in and that’s not an ethics code, but, I mean, literally if the unions are paying the 14 senators-if they’re paying for their food, their lodging, anything like that, uh, we believe at minimum it’s an ethics code violation and it may very well be a felony misconduct in office because, see, technically, it’s not just a political contribution it is, if they’re being paid to keep them from doing their job, we think that’s an, uh, legally an obstruction, not an obstruction of justice, but an obstruction of their ability to do their job. And we still’ve got, the attorney general’s office is looking into it for us. So we’re trying about four or five different angles, so each day we crank up a little bit more pressure. The other thing is I’ve got layoff notices ready. We put out the at-risk notices. We’ll announce Thursday, and they’ll go out early next week. And we’ll probably get 5 to 6,000 state workers will get at-risk notices for layoffs. We might ratchet that up a little bit, you know.
Murphy: Beautiful, beautiful. Gotta crush that union.
Walker: Well it’s one of those where, in the end, you know, the, the uh, and I’ve had not only Cullen, and I’ve talked to him myself, I’ve had three or four of my other business-leader friends who know him over the years, and just kind of pass the message on to these guys, if they think I’m caving, they’ve been asleep for the last eight years ’cause I’ve taken on every major battle in Milwaukee County and won, even in a county where I’m overwhelmingly overpowered politically, and, ’cause I don’t budge.
Murphy: Goddamn right!
Walker: If you’re doing the right thing, you stay firm and, in this case, you know, we say we’ll wait it out. If they want to start sacrificing thousands of public workers who’ll be laid off, sooner or later there’s gonna be pressure on these senators to come back. We’re not compromising, we’re not gonna —
Walker: The other thing we may do, ’cause the senator I mentioned thinks that these guys — you’ve got a few of the radical ones, who, unfortunately, one of them is the minority leader, but most of the rest of them are just looking for a way to get out of this. They’re scared out of their mind, they don’t know what it means. There’s a bunch of recalls up against them. They’d really like to just get back here and get it over with. So the paycheck thing, some of the other things threaten them. I think, collectively, there’s enough going on and as long as they don’t think I’m gonna cave — which, again, we have no interest in — an interesting idea that was brought up to me this morning by my chief of staff, we won’t do it until tomorrow, is putting out an appeal to the Democrat leader that I would be willing to sit down and talk to him, the assembly Democrat leader, plus the other two Republican leaders — talk, not negotiate — and listen to what they have to say if they will in turn — but I’ll only do it if all 14 of them come back and sit down in the state Assembly. They can recess it, to come back if we’re talking, but they all have to be back there. The reason for that is, we’re verifying it this afternoon, but legally, we believe, once they’ve gone into session, they don’t physically have to be there. If they’re actually in session for that day and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they’d have a quorum because they started out that way. Um, so we’re double checking that. But that would be the only, if you heard that I was going to talk to them, that would be the only reason why. We’d only do it if they came back to the capital with all 14 of them. And my sense is, hell, I’ll talk to them. If they want to yell at me for an hour, you know, I’m used to that, I can deal with that. But I’m not negotiating.
Murphy: Bring a baseball bat. That’s what I’d do.
Walker: I have one in my office; you’d be happy with that. I got a Slugger with my name on it.
Walker: But in the end, this is, and this is, I even pointed it out last night ’cause I’m trying to keep out the, as many of the private unions as possible, I said this is about the budget, this is about public-sector unions. Hell, even FDR got it. Um, there’s no place for the kind of, uh, I mean, essentially you’re having taxpayer money be used to pay to lobby for spending more taxpayers’ money. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
Walker: So it’s, uh, this is ground zero, there’s no doubt about it. But, uh, I think, you know, for us, I just keep telling, I call, I tell the speaker, the senate majority leader every night, give me a list of the people I need to call at home, to shore ’em up. The New York Times, of all things, I don’t normally tell people to read the New York Times, but the front page of the New York Times has got a great story, one of these unbelievable moments of true journalism, what is supposed to be objective journalism. They got out of the capital and went down one county south of the capital to Janesville, to Rock County, that’s where the General Motors plant once was.
Murphy: Right, right.
Walker: They moved out two years ago. The lead on this story is about a guy who was laid off two years ago, uh, he’s been laid off twice by GM, who points out that, uh, everybody else in his town has had to sacrifice except for all these public employees and it’s about damn time they do, and he supports me. Um, and they had a bartender, they had, I mean, every stereotypical blue-collar worker type they interviewed, and the only ones that weren’t with us were people who were either a public employee or married to a public employee. It’s an unbelievable story. So I went through and called all these uh, a handful, a dozen or so lawmakers I worry about each day and said, “Everyone, we should get that story printed out and send it to anyone giving you grief.”
Murphy: Goddamn right! We, uh, we sent, uh, Andrew Breitbart down there.
Walker: Good stuff.
Murphy: He’s our man, you know.
Walker: Well, it has been amazing to me the massive amount of attention I, I’ve don all, I want to stay ahead of this every day, tonight I’m actually doing a fireside chat, which the state TV stations are picking up and I guess a bunch of the national ones are, too, and, uh, in the last couple of days when I do the TV shows, I’ve been going after Obama because he stuck — although he’s backed off now — but he stuck his nose in here. And I said, you know, he asked me what I thought about it and I said the last time I checked this guy’s got a much bigger budget deficit than we do, maybe he should worry about that [Murphy laughs] and not stick his nose in Wisconsin’s business. But you know, we’ve had, uh, you know, all the national shows, we were on [Sean] Hannity last night, I did “Good Morning America,” the “Today” show and all that sorta stuff. I was on “Morning Joe” this morning. We’ve done Greta [van Susteren]. We’re gonna, you know, keep getting our message out. Mark Levin last night. And I’ve gotta tell you the response from around the country has been phenomenal. I had Brian [Sadoval], the new governor of Nevada, called me the last night he said-he was out in the Lincoln Day Circuit in the last two weekends and he was kidding me, he’s new as well as me, he said, “Scott, don’t come to Nevada because I’d be afraid you beat me running for governor.” That’s all they want to talk about is what are you doing to help the governor of Wisconsin. The next question, you know, I talk to Kasich every day-John’s gotta stand firm in Ohio. I think we could do the same thing with Vic Scott in Florida. I think, uh, [Rick] Snyder-if he got a little more support-probably could do that in Michigan. You start going down the list there’s a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something big.
Murphy: You’re the first domino.
Walker: Yep. This is our moment.
Murphy: Yeah. Now what else could we do for you down there?
Walker: Well the biggest thing would be-and your guy on the ground [Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips] is probably seeing this is the, well, two things: One, our members originally got freaked out by all the bodies here, although, I told them an interesting story when I was first elected county executive in Milwaukee of all places, the first budget I put through was pretty bold, aggressive, the union went nuts on me and I got all sorts of grief. But a couple of weeks later I’m in a Veterans Day parade and I’m going down the line and usually unless you’re a veteran or, you know, marching with a veterans group, politicians all get polite applause but nobody gets up. I come down the line, 40-50 people in a row, hands up, thumbs up, you know, cheering, screaming, yelling, ‘Way to go, hang in there, Walker!’ And then after about 40-50 people like that, there’s a guy flipping me off [Murphy laughs]. This goes on, you know, 40-50 [recording cuts out].
Walker: [recording resumes] right thing. The people who know it’s right will cheer you, will applaud you, they’ll run through a wall for you. And the people who don’t like it, they’re gonna flip you off. But stop worrying about, you know, them because — the other day, there were 70,000, probably two-thirds were against the bill, one-third were for, 70,000 people at the Capitol. All week there’s been, you know, 15-30,000 a day. But I remind all our lawmakers, that there’s five and a half million people in this state. And just because a bunch of guys who can jump off of work ’cause of their union rules, doesn’t mean the rest of the people in your district aren’t with them. So one thing, per your question is, the more groups that are encouraging people not just to show up but to call lawmakers and tell them to hang firm with the governor, the better. Because the more they get that reassurance, the easier it is for them to vote yes.
Murphy: Right, right.
Walker: The other thing is more long-term, and that is, after this, um, you know the coming days and weeks and months ahead, particulary in some of these, uh, more swing areas, a lot of these guys are gonna need, they don’t necessarily need ads for them, but they’re gonna need a message out reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy and a good thing to do for the state. So to the extent that that message is out over and over again, that’s obviously a good thing.
Murphy: Right, right. Well, we’ll back you any way we can. But, uh, what we were thinking about the crowds was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.
Walker: You know, the, well, the only problem with that — because we thought about that. The problem — the, my only gut reaction to that is right now the lawmakers I’ve talked to have just completely had it with them, the public is not really fond of this. The teachers union did some polling of focus groups, I think, and found out that the public turned on ’em the minute they closed school down for a couple days. The guys we’ve got left are largely from out of state, and I keep dismissing it in all my press conferences saying, ‘Eh, they’re mostly from out of state.’ My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems. You know, whereas, I’ve said, ‘Hey, you know, we can handle this, people can protest. This is Madison, you know, full of the ’60s liberals. Let ’em protest.’ It’s not gonna affect us. And as long as we go back to our homes and the majority of the people are telling us we’re doing the right thing, let ’em protest all they want. Um, so that’s my gut reaction, is that I think it’s actually good if they’re constant, they’re noisy, but they’re quiet, nothing happens, ’cause sooner or later the media stops finding ’em interesting.
Murphy: Well, not the liberal bastards on MSNBC.
Walker: Oh, yeah, but who watches that? I went on “Morning Joe” this morning. I like it ’cause I just like being combative with those guys, but, uh. You know they’re off the deep end.
Murphy: Joe-Joe’s a good guy. He’s one of us.
Walker: Yeah, he’s all right. He was fair to me, I mean, the rest of them were out there. Although I had fun. They had [senator Chuck] Schumer over from New York on, ripping me, and then they had a little clip of a state senator hiding out ripping me, and it was almost too easy. I walked in and Joe asked me a question and I say, well, before I answer that, let me just point out the amazing irony, the fact that you’ve got a United States senator from New York, a senator, who, by the way, is part of a team that can’t seem to balance the federal budget, talking about my budget. At least he’s coming into work to talk about something, although it’s mine. And you got one of these 14 state senate Democrats, uh, who can’t even bother to show up and deal with the budget he’s elected to do something about. And, uh, I said that kind of tells you the whole story right there.
Murphy: Beautiful, beautiful. But you gotta love that Mika Brzezinski.
Walker: Oh, yeah.
Murphy: She’s a piece of ass.
Walker: You know, a couple of weeks ago [unclear], I was having dinner with Jim Sensenbrenner when I came in to D.C. for a day to do an event, and we were going over to do the Greta show. I had dinner with congressman Sensenbrenner, and right next to us was the two of them and then their guest was [Obama advisor David] Axelrod. I came over [Murphy laughs], I introduced myself.
Murphy: That son of a bitch!
Walker: Yeah, no kidding, huh? I introduced myself. I said, I figured you probably knew who I was since your boss was in campaigning against me. But, uh, it’s always good to let ’em know you know what’s going on.
Murphy: Well, good, good. Good catching up with ya’.
Walker: Yeah, well, thanks. This is an exciting time. This is — you know, I told my cabinet, I had a dinner the Sunday, or excuse me, the Monday right after the 6th. Came home from the Super Bowl where the Packers won, and that Monday night I had all of my cabinet over to the residence for dinner. Talked about what we were gonna do, how we were gonna do it. We’d already kinda built plans up, but it was kind of the last hurrah before we dropped the bomb. And I stood up and I pulled out a picture of Ronald Reagan, and I said, you know, this may seem a little melodramatic, but 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan, whose 100th birthday we just celebrated the day before, had one of the most defining moments of his political career, not just his presidency, when he fired the air-traffic controllers. And, uh, I said, to me that moment was more important than just for labor relations or even the federal budget, that was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communism because from that point forward, the Soviets and the Communists knew that Ronald Reagan wasn’t a pushover. And, uh, I said this may not have as broad of world implications, but in Wisconsin’s history — little did I know how big it would be nationally — in Wisconsin’s history, I said this is our moment, this is our time to change the course of history. And this is why it’s so important that they were all there. I had a cabinet meeting this morning and I reminded them of that and I said for those of you who thought I was being melodramatic you now know it was purely putting it in the right context.
Murphy: [Laughs] Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.
Walker: All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks, thanks for all the support and helping us move the cause forward, and we appreciate it. We’re, uh, we’re doing the just and right thing for the right reasons, and it’s all about getting our freedoms back.
Murphy: Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well. [Laughs]
Walker: Well, that’s just it. The bottom line is we’re gonna get the world moving here because it’s the right thing to do.
Murphy: All right then.
Walker: Thanks a million!
[Emphasis added -- mdc]