State News

Our Wisconsin Revolution says lawmakers aren’t doing enough to help rural communities

The democratic-populist organization believes proposed legislation has been “largely symbolic” and are hoping for wider-reaching changes to rebuild rural communities.

The democratic-populist organization believes proposed legislation has been “largely symbolic” and are hoping for wider-reaching changes to rebuild rural communities.

Image By: Courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Extension

Despite proposals to revitalize the agricultural industry from both sides of the aisle, the political organization Our Wisconsin Revolution expressed frustration at legislation they view as “largely symbolic” to help rural communities. 

Our Wisconsin Revolution — an independent, statewide, membership-driven, democratic-populist organization — stated in a press release that lawmakers are failing to address the main reasons for the loss of, on average, more than two family farms a day. Instead, they are trying to fix the problem by “offering to hand out what amounts to cosmetics gift sets.”

Democratic plans included creating more grant programs for farmers and expanding mental health services. Republican bills have called for tax cuts for farmers and a $5 million plan to increase exports. Both proposals would expand the UW-Extension

Still, OWR feels there is not enough being done.

Mike McCabe, OWR executive director, called the agendas of both Gov. Tony Evers and Republican legislators “puny” — and while the legislation is helpful, it’s more of a band-aid than a deep solution.

“The ideas are all well and good, but they don’t get anywhere close to the root of what’s gone haywire in the farm economy and what’s killing rural communities,” McCabe said.

McCabe said that most rural Wisconsinites live and work in small towns. While farming is crucial to the state, he believes the legislative special session should address the health of rural communities. 

OWR suggested eight ways to stabilize the farm economy and strengthen rural communities, including calling for universal high-speed internet and cell phone service.

In 2019, 28 percent of rural populations lacked access to broadband. While the number was an improvement in 2018 — when it was 43 percent — Wisconsin still ranks near the bottom nationally in access to rural, high-speed internet access. 

OWR said that legislators should provide a “comparable effort” to the rural electrification of 1930s and 1940s, and grant high-speed internet and mobile access to every small town. 

“Meaningfully addressing the rural-urban divide requires dealing with the digital divide,” OWR said. “Reliable Internet and cell phone signals are basic necessities in this day and age and way too many people can’t get them.”

The other suggestions from OWR include:

  • A moratorium on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, which have impacted rural areas ecologically and economically. 
  • Parity pricing to ensure farmers a living wage and also let smaller farms compete against larger ones.
  • Establishing new satellite college campuses in rural areas.
  • Restoring local democracy and home rule. 
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