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Columns
Harrop: Trump turns farmers into a sacrifice

Our generally strong economy has yet to cast its blessings on American farm country. Incomes there are headed for their lowest level since 2006. And farmers are going deep into debt to keep their heads above water.

President Trump’s budget blueprint would only make things worse for U.S. agriculture. Trump’s hostility to trade deals has already inflicted damage on an economic sector highly dependent on exports. And that’s on top of his deficit-exploding tax bill and cranked-up federal spending, sure to make borrowing still more expensive.

U.S. farmers have been buffeted by the bumper crops of corn and soybeans. The worldwide grain glut has hammered prices. Russia and Brazil, meanwhile, are taking market share from American grain producers. (Small wonder the Russians love Trump.)

The budget would do several things that would further hurt the farm economy. The obvious one would be to chop $47 billion from the federal crop insurance and other farm programs over 10 years.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Trump had personally promised him not to cut crop insurance. Trump not keeping his sacred word? Imagine our surprise.

The Northern Ag Network reports that some farmers think agriculture has been disproportionately targeted in the budget cuts. “When you look at the agriculture in the scheme of things of the overall federal budget,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring complained, “we are decimal dust.”

The budget plan contains other spending reductions that could do considerable harm to farmers. One would cut what used to be called the food stamp program by 30 percent. Contrary to a common belief, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was not designed to be a free ride for lazy poor people. Most of the recipients are low-income workers, many trying to feed children. Others are disabled or elderly.

The food stamp program is important to farmers for political reasons. Farm bills pass thanks to a coalition of representatives from rural and urban areas. The more numerous urban reps would see little value in passing expensive bills serving farm country were it not for the food stamps that help their poor constituents. Trump’s plan would take SNAP benefits away from 4 million people.

As Barry Flinchbaugh, veteran ag economist at Kansas State, recently told a convention of grain growers in Manhattan, Kansas: “If food stamps are taken out, it will be the last farm bill. The urban Congress won’t support a crop program without food stamps.”

The budget’s proposed slashing of State Department funding by 23 percent is another bad omen for farm country. America’s diplomats devote over a third of their communications pushing U.S. exports, according to one analysis.

With Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatening the North American Free Trade Agreement, America’s farmers and ranchers are going to need all the support from Washington they can get.

“I’ve been predicting ag policy for 50 years,” Flinchbaugh noted. “It’s never been more difficult than under this administration.”

The strange reality is that good, hardworking farm people helped elect the man currently dismantling their economy. They might spend less time watching Fox News herald the magnificence of Donald J. Trump and more time weighing their own economic interests. How is it they became such an easy sacrifice?


Letters
Letters to the editor for Saturday, Feb. 17

Bullock has promoted community partnerships

I would like to share my support for Mario Bullock who is running for the Rock County Board District 26 seat. Mario is committed to being a voice for our community. I have known Mario as a friend and previous co-worker for almost a decade. He has shown an interest in local government for a long time.

He has been engaged with the Janesville area. Mario serves on the African American Liaison Advisory Committee. They have already done great things to improve relationships with law enforcement and promote partnerships that residents benefit from. Mario enjoys working with the Janesville School District through the committee to engage with the students so there is reduced negativity toward our officers and relationships to build on. Mario will be an asset to our county board. I am proud to write this letter, and I ask you to join me in voting for Mario on Feb. 20.

MATTHEW GROSS

Janesville

County board would get a hard worker in Bullock

I first met Rock County Board candidate Mario Bullock while attending Blackhawk Technical College.

He sparked up a conversation with me while we left class regarding our lecture. He has an outgoing personality and is easy to talk to from the start.

I am impressed he has chosen to run for an elected position. Mario will be a great person to have on our side. He is down to earth, and I believe people will find him approachable and hardworking, like them.

Mario has always been involved with the community. He is intelligent and enjoys listening and talking to people. He is serious about making Rock County a better place for everyone. He is interested in hearing different ideas.

Mario will be great for my district. Vote for Mario Bullock for the District 26 seat on Feb. 20.

AUSTIN MINOTT

Janesville


Other_views
Guest Views: Yes, it's time to increase the gas tax

Gov. Scott Walker this month said he’s open to raising Wisconsin’s gas tax for the first time in more than a decade.

That’s good, because Wisconsin’s transportation system definitely needs more investment. Wisconsin’s roads are the worst in the Midwest, according to a state audit, and nearly the worst in the nation.

We just hope the governor is serious this time about collecting more revenue for highway repairs and improvements. In the past, he hasn’t followed through—even when his demand to offset any increase with reductions in other state taxes has been granted.

Gov. Walker sees an opportunity for more money from the federal government in President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion plan to improve America’s infrastructure. As outlined in his recent State of the Union speech, President Trump envisions $200 billion in higher federal spending on transportation needs, with the rest of the $1.5 trillion coming from state, local and private sources.

Gov. Walker told reporters he’s willing to raise the state’s gas tax if that will help leverage more money from the federal government for construction work here in Wisconsin. But he added his familiar caveat that any increase in fees on motorists much be offset by tax cuts elsewhere.

That last requirement should be easy to fulfill. After all, the governor just proposed a $100-per-child tax credit in his recent State of the State speech. And if that isn’t enough, the governor during his speech touted $8 billion in tax cuts he has delivered during his two terms in office. Most of those savings went to manufacturers and industry. But some went to ordinary people who got breaks on their income and property taxes.

So the burden on taxpayers is already down, leaving plenty of room for a modest increase in the state’s gas tax, which is really just a user fee on motorists to help pay for roads.

Wisconsin’s gas tax has been 32.9 cents per gallon since 2006—despite rising construction costs due to inflation and heavier traffic. The state’s other major source of income for roads, a $75 vehicle registration fee on most vehicles (though hybrids pay more), hasn’t increased since 2008.

To get by, Gov. Walker and the Republican-run Legislature have borrowed billions of dollars in recent years, including $400 million in the current state budget.

That’s not sustainable, because more and more road revenue will be eaten up by higher debt payments.

Raising the state’s gas tax is the simplest solution to ensuring a fiscally sound future. Other options for a better transportation system include electronic tolling on the interstates (which would bring in more money from tourists and trucks) or a mileage-based charge (which would treat most vehicles the same, regardless of the fuel they consume).

What doesn’t make financial sense is more borrowing for roads while highway conditions continue to deteriorate. We hope the governor is finally getting serious about paying for better roads with real money.

—Wisconsin State Journal


Columns
Bremel: Council overreacts to concerns about polling place

I guess I’ll just stay home on election day. You see, I’m afraid to vote. Once, someone gave me a nasty look at the Village Hall, and now I’m simply too emotionally scarred to cross the door threshold.

OK, I made that up. However, the Janesville City Council would apparently believe me and possibly move the polling place to be sure I could vote without being intimidated by an irrational fear. I make that assumption based on the fact that the council is now spending time and effort to search for an alternative to having a couple of wards temporarily (April and August elections) vote at the police station.

Never mind that the only reason for the change is construction at City Hall, and the temporary move to the police department just across the street from the usual polling place would be convenient. Some folks have already seized the opportunity for political gain and would have you believe otherwise. But there is no darker motive. This is not, as congressional candidate Cathy Myers would have you believe, another attempt at voter suppression. This is a simple shift of a voting machine from one public building to another—nothing more.

In listening to the public comments and watching the actions of council members, one might believe a huge and frightening rift exists between our citizens and police department when nothing could be further from the truth.

The efforts of the Janesville Police Department through special training, formation of special committees (such as the African American Liaison Advisory Committee) and a community approach to policing have been nearly heroic. Yet certain residents and council members who openly wear their social causes on their sleeves have unwittingly given a left-handed slap in the face to our men and women in uniform.

They do so even as they profess to uphold the sensitivity of other voters (how many exactly, by the way?) who would rather give up their right to vote than enter the building housing a police department. Enough is enough. I’ve grown weary of the rhetoric. “If even one voter is disenfranchised…,” they say. Well, here we are, majoring in the minors again.

Why are these concerned defenders of democracy not worried about the 80-some-percent of the electorate who will not turn out to vote? Why are they not seeking better locations to make sure those folks do come out and vote? I will tell you why: Because the location of the polling place makes very little difference unless you are trying to score political points.

People go to the polls or stay home for myriad reasons, but I have never heard one person tell me they didn’t vote because they were afraid of the polling location. And in the dust storm of social correctness and sensitivity, the most unfortunate part of this latest short-sighted attempt to cater to an oversensitive minority is that the city council’s actions may speak louder than words to our police department.

Is the message: “The police department is open to you for your needs, including a place to make your voice heard on Election Day,” or is it “The police department is a scary place—too scary to invite citizens there to vote”?

According to five city council members, sadly, it appears to be the latter.