More Great Ideas from Wisconsin Republicans: Deregulating Sewage

Another typical day in downtown Madison:

I'm sitting on a bench outside the Capitol building, watching the protesters go by and eating falafel from a local lunch cart with my spouse, when out of the building walks a friend who works for a state agency that shall rename nameless. She is scratching her head and carrying a copy of a bill freshly passed by the Joint Finance Committee that directly affects her work--but that neither she nor her boss had heard about until today.

Here is what the bill does: It lifts the requirement that you replace your old septic system if the surface of your property is swimming in shit.

Oh, those Republicans!

Let's just pause a minute and appreciate all they are accomplishing, despite their grumbling about the distraction of police, firefighters, teachers, students, and public employees from all over the state bothering them by chanting and singing outside their windows.

Why, just this week they reformed child labor law by ending the prohibition on minors under age 18 working more than 40 hours or six days a week.

Last week they got rid of the Earned Income Tax Credit--the most efficient and equitable measure in the tax code to help low-income working families.

Then, not two days ago, they put a measure in the budget that gives a big tax credit to manufacturers and agriculture concerns that do business in the state. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, this will cost us $360 million in one year, and another $129 million a year after that.

And now they are tackling socialist sewage regulations.

The new bill states that the DNR "or the appropriate local government may only require a property owner to replace or rehabilitate a failing residential private sewage system if . . . the discharge of sewage reaches a property owned by a different person . . ."

Under the old rules, your neighbors did not have to actually prove that your sewage was contaminating their property before you had to replace your broken system.

But that was before the Ayn Randian defenders of individual rights took over our government.

Now you have the freedom to live in your own, private pile of shit on your own, private land.

This is a perfect example of what is happening in Wisconsin for several reasons:

1. We had a model system.

My friend explains that the Wisconsin state codes that govern the design and construction of septic systems were among the most advanced in the nation, based on cutting-edge research paid for by the state.

2. The Republicans, without bothering to consult the people who run this system, decide to gut it, taking us back to an older, dirtier, lower standard. Why have a clean environment or a functioning infrastructure? In doing so, they set us on a path to further degradation. Allowing someone to have raw sewage on the ground undermines the whole idea of the septic system code, my friend points out. Why have building requirements, if you aren't going to insist that the system work?

3. The public is the loser (unless you are a fan of raw sewage lying around). Guess who wins?

There are good reasons why private property owners might not want to pay to replace failing septic systems--replacing a system is expensive. But there is also a fund to help low-income, rural families manage the expense. Instead of expanding eligibility for help through that fund, the Republicans decided to do away with the whole requirement.

At least 25 percent of Wisconsinites have septic systems. These are not just individual rural homes, but whole new developments, including subdivisions and commercial properties built on unsewered land like Wal-Mart and the Ho-Chunk Casino. My guess is the larger entities are bigger fans of ignoring the mess than your average homeowner.

4. Finally, the obvious: It stinks.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "In the Midst of Economic Destruction, Inspiration."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter