State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
Several elected officials, representatives of conservation organizations, and private citizens held news conferences Tuesday calling for quick approval of a Great Lakes Compact. I continue to urge caution to avoid approval for approval’s sake that might result in a flawed Compact.
Some of the comments made to endorse a fast Compact resolution are disturbing.
Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy issued a press release that, “the (Milwaukee Common Council’s) Public Works Committee unanimously passed a resolution that Milwaukee will not sign final agreements relating to the sale of water to communities outside the Great Lakes basin until all eight state legislatures in the Council of Great Lakes and two Canadian provinces ratify the compact.”
Murphy’s blunt statement is a direct shot across the bow, a clear indication that the city of Milwaukee doesn’t have any intention of assisting communities like New Berlin or Waukesha in dealing with their need for water.
Murphy’s press release also states that, “Once the compact is ratified; the City of Milwaukee may enter into agreements for the sale of water to neighboring communities outside the Great Lakes Basin.” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has made similar statements, threatening to withhold water.
This amounts to pure extortion, and it’s very sad that Milwaukee officials would use a public-health issue as leverage to extort a vote.
Here are the facts.
Milwaukee's role as it relates to water to the suburbs is only technical infrastructure, not denial or approval of access to Lake Michigan water. Milwaukee doesn’t have authority to say yes or no. It doesn’t have exclusive ownership of Lake Michigan or control of Lake Michigan water.
New Berlin has received approval from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to negotiate with the Milwaukee Water Works for infrastructure access to Lake Michigan water.
The DNR told New Berlin they could negotiate with Milwaukee to access water, and those negotiations are taking place. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is telling mayors in the Senate district that I represent that they will not get water until I and other suburban legislators approve the compact.
The communities are under a radium enforcement issue. I do not take kindly to extortion, and I find it appalling that Mayor Barrett uses public health, denial of safe drinking water to my constituents as leverage. I am told that Mayor Barrett is telling Mayors he wants them to develop low income housing and give him a share of all growth that results from Milwaukee giving the communities water.
If he wants to be the Mayor or city planner for the communities that I represent, then he ought to apply for the job. Why does government regional cooperation not work? Because it is never cooperation; it is the City of Milwaukee using any means available to get control of suburban growth and get revenues from communities surrounding the city of Milwaukee.
The broad language of the compact and the problematic provision that allows a single Great Lakes governor to veto a proposal to divert water outside the Great Lakes basin are major sticking points about the Compact that remain. One state enjoying dictatorial power is not consistent with the concept of majority rule our country is founded on, not to mention the issue of a governor of another state having the power to veto actions of people that do not elect that governor.
I spoke with a senator from Ohio and he informs me that Ohio is not going to ratify the Compact in its current form. Wisconsin should work in partnership with Ohio to address similar concerns and develop a more effective Compact. I continue to interact with Ohio Senator Tim Grendell as he drafts legislation in Ohio.
Now the discussion on the Compact shifts to the state Legislature where the issue could very well get bogged down in partisan politics rather than focusing on scientific evidence and expertise. Only two states that have little at stake, Minnesota and Illinois have ratified the Compact. It might be best for the Compact to be sent back to the Governors of the Great Lakes States so that they can correct the fatal flaws. Approving the Compact just to attain a Compact is not the solution.