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DNR to increase fees at more popular state parks

The Department of Natural Resources is rolling out plans for a new pricing system for camping and daily admission at state parks that will mean higher rates at the most popular campgrounds and price cuts at parks not as popular.

The DNR is raising fees for camping at 38 properties at various times this year and is cutting fees at 36 others. The biggest increases would be $7 per day and the biggest cuts would be $5 per day.

Also, the daily entrance fees at three popular parks—Devil’s Lake, Peninsula and Willow River—would increase.

The changes have been approved by DNR Secretary Dan Meyer and will be reviewed by the Natural Resources Board at its next regular meeting Jan. 24 in Madison.

The DNR says the new pricing is expected to take effect after Feb. 15.

The agency is retooling the fee structure after the Legislature in 2015 cut all general-purpose funding for the parks system. At the time, lawmakers directed the DNR to shift to a new business model and rely solely on fees and other revenue it can generate.

The change brought criticism from many Democrats who said fee increases would fall hardest on those looking for affordable types of recreation.

In an interview Thursday, state parks director Ben Bergey said the changes are projected to generate an additional $1.1 million annually for the parks system.

The parks system should be able to avoid a shortfall, and some users will be able to pay less for some camping sites at certain times of the year, Bergey said.

Summer changes

Prices would increase for campgrounds that have an occupancy rate during designated periods of 80 percent or higher. By contrast, price cuts would go into effect for campgrounds with an occupancy of 30 percent or less during designated periods.

The pricing changes are driven by customer demand, meaning that in some cases, campers will pay higher prices in some seasons for some sites and less in other times of the year.

Devil’s Lake and Peninsula state parks, for example, would see an increase of $7 for an electrified site on summer weekends and a $2 increase for a nonelectrified site.

Camping fees already vary between parks. With the changes proposed, a resident camper at Devil’s Lake and Peninsula would see prices rise from $30 to $37 on the weekend in the summer for a site with electric service—a 23 percent increase.

Devil’s Lake gets more than 2.5 million visitors annually, according to Friends of Devil’s Lake State Park. Peninsula attracts more than 1 million people annually, says Friends of Peninsula State Park.

Willow River, High Cliff and Kohler-Andrae would see an increase of $5 for sites with electric service.

The increases would be the same for resident and nonresident campers.

Bergey said the high prices at peak periods for these popular parks will help the DNR manage capacity.

Year-round changes

The daily entrance fee for Devil’s Lake would increase from $8 to $13 for Wisconsin residents, up almost 63 percent. For nonresidents, it would also increase by $5—from $11 to $16.

A smaller increase of $2 is planned for Peninsula and Willow River. Residents would pay $10 for a daily entrance fee and nonresidents would pay $13.

Charges for hourly fees at parks, prices for annual stickers and discounted fees for Wisconsin residents 65 and older would not change.

The price increases and decreases will be built into the reservation system, Bergey said, allowing users to see the price changes over the course of the year.

One example of a price decrease, he said, is at Lake Kegonsa State Park. A nonelectric site on weekdays would drop from $20 to $15, he said.


Walker set to impose work requirements for Medicaid

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Tens of thousands of needy but able-bodied adults in Wisconsin could have to work to qualify for state health coverage under a plan from Gov. Scott Walker that has won support from President Donald Trump’s administration.

Walker immediately praised the move, which he said would spur more Wisconsinites to work and which critics said would spur lawsuits.

Seema Verma, head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, opened the way this week for states to require “able-bodied, working-age Medicaid beneficiaries” to participate in skills training, education, job search, volunteering or caregiving.

“Medicaid needs to be more flexible so that states can best address the needs of this population,” Verma said in a statement. “Our fundamental goal is to make a positive and lasting difference in the health and wellness of our beneficiaries.”

Walker and his fellow GOP governors in nine other states have sought to impose work and training requirements on the Medicaid program known in Wisconsin as BadgerCare. But to do it they needed the backing of federal officials.

Jon Peacock, research director of the advocacy group Kids Forward, said he expected the decision to spark a federal lawsuit from opponents.

He said the deal would hurt needy college students and adults caring for elderly parents and would do less to get people working than addressing other problems such as a lack of transportation.

“If proponents of work requirements truly want to help people find work, they should invest in things like skills training and improved access to child care, rather than increasing red tape and making it harder for people to access health care,” Peacock said.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Mandy McClure blasted the proposals, calling them “inhumane.” She said the vast majority of Medicaid recipients either work already or face an obstacle to employment such as a disability or advanced age.

“This is nothing but yet another excuse for Republicans to try to kick people off of their health insurance,” she said.

Walker and GOP lawmakers approved legislation last year to move forward with work and drug testing requirements, which together could affect a large number of state residents.

Starting in April 2019, the changes could affect 148,000 childless adults in Wisconsin with incomes below the federal poverty level—$12,060 a year for a single adult.


Ryan: Trump immigration comments 'unfortunate,' 'unhelpful'

Once again, House Speaker Paul Ryan was dragged Friday to a place he really doesn’t like to go: Responding to something said by President Donald Trump.

A day after Trump reportedly made derogatory remarks about Haiti and African nations during a White House meeting on immigration, Ryan called the president’s comments “very unfortunate” and “unhelpful.”

Ryan came to Milwaukee to tout his party’s tax overhaul during an appearance at an event organized by WisPolitics. He did that at length.

But Ryan also discussed his Irish roots and said immigration is “a thing to celebrate.”

“I read those comments later last night,” he said. “So first thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful. But you know what I thought of right away, I thought about my own family.

“My family, like a whole lot of people, came from Ireland on what they called the coffin ships then. Came here and worked the railroads. The Irish were really looked down upon back in those days. I hear all these stories from my relatives about ‘Irish need not apply.’ We could basically get construction jobs, cops and firefighter jobs.”

On Friday, Trump denied using the words “shithole countries,” to describe Haiti and African nations in a meeting with lawmakers Thursday at the White House.

But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Trump had indeed made those comments in his presence.

During an interview with WKOW-TV in Madison, Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson called on Trump to apologize.

“When you are in public life, I think you do really need to hold yourself to a higher standard. Children are watching. The world is watching,” Johnson told Capital City Sunday in a segment recorded Friday. “I think the president ought to apologize.”

Ryan said he wanted to get a deal done on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, helping so-called Dreamers who were brought to this country as children by their parents.

He also said there will not be a government shutdown next week. He expressed confidence that Congress will come up with a deal to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Ryan continued to make a full-court press on the benefits of the tax bill and said 2 million workers have already been offered bonuses and pay increases since the Republican overhaul was signed into law.

Ryan said the U.S. now has one of the best tax codes in the industrialized world and said the bill is becoming more popular since it was enacted.

Ryan said Republicans will focus on workforce development and infrastructure. But he acknowledged there won’t be any legislation on Social Security and Medicare, which need bipartisan support to tackle an overhaul.

Referring to the 2018 midterms and the possibility of a wave of Democrats being elected to Congress, Ryan said: “History says we should lose 32 seats. ... we have to buck history.”

Ryan said a wave of GOP retirements in the House was something he “pretty much expected,” since Republican chairs are term-limited.


Paul Ryan