Roundup: Rural Wis. Lags in Political Gifts

Rural economy headed for a mixed year, report says • Small town goes large on electric cars • Minnesota senator listens to concerns about broadband • Radio station’s “Calls from Home” delivers messages to inmates • Iowa, Nevada report more rural mortgages • City folk in Canada dumping unwanted pets in rural areas

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If political contributions influence the political process, rural Wisconsin residents may be out of luck, a report from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign shows.

The nonpartisan group found that 90% of Wisconsin’s political contributions of $100 or more came from just a fifth of the state’s ZIP codes. Almost all those big-donor ZIPs were in urban and suburban communities.

“Most of the money is coming from urban and suburban zip codes,” Mike McCabe told the La Crosse Tribune. “That goes a long way to explaining why neither party has much of a rural agenda. … The bottom line is politicians are not talking about rural issues because they can’t raise money talking about rural issues.”

Rep. Chris Danou, a Trempealeau Democrat, said the influence of urban money — as well as population — is evident in the school funding formula, which tends to favor wealthier districts and penalize rural ones.

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” he said. “If you look at who’s done pretty well in Wisconsin in terms of getting the policies they like, it’s the suburbs.”

But Rep. Steve Doyle, a Democrat whose mostly urban and suburban district includes some agricultural parts of La Crosse County, notes that the Legislature has passed pro-rural policies, such as shifting the property tax burden onto residential land.

The story includes an interactive map and chart that allows users to dig into the contribution data.

Report Predicts Economic Winners, Losers. The rural economy is in for a mixed year, according to a forecast from a cooperative bank that provides financial services to agriculture, energy and other rural-focused industries.

The quarterly report from CoBank says declining crop prices will be offset by economic growth in other rural economy sectors such as energy development.

Farmers produced a record corn harvest in 2013, so much so that the crop strained the transportation system and created other bottlenecks in distribution, the report says.

“Ethanol producers are one of the greatest beneficiaries of the record 2013 corn harvest,” the report says. “But their longer-term growth prospects appear to have taken a turn for the worse in November with the EPA’s proposal to significantly lower the RFS [renewable fuel standards] blending obligations for 2014.” Those standards determine how much ethanol must be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply.

Livestock and dairy producers will benefit from lower feed prices, the report says.

CoBank says the most dynamic part of the rural economy will be energy, which is seeing large increases in oil and gas production.

Charge While You Wait. What to do when tooling around Wyoming looking to charge your $100,000 electric Tesla? Head to Lusk, a town in the state’s least populous county, and find the Covered Wagon Motel. Tesla has installed charging stations for their electric cars across the country. One of those stations is in Lusk. Locals, who mostly prefer big, cattle-towing trucks, are hoping the stations draw a wealthy tourist crowd to their town. The 45-minute charge required by an empty battery is enough time to spend money at a restaurant or antique store.

Broadband Tour. A Minnesota state senator is on a listening tour to hear how the state might help small communities improve their broadband service. And Sen. Matt Schmit is getting an earful.

Schmit’s latest stop was in Annandale, where city officials said Internet service is “balky and unreliable,” reports sctimes.com.

Here’s an excerpt:

“[Broadband] is just as important as roads and bridges or sewer and water,” Schmit said. “I don’t think there’s anything we could bond for in Minnesota that’s going to have a better return on investment.”

Annandale City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp said she constantly fields calls from city residents fed up with the DSL service provided by Windstream Communications, a Little Rock, Ark., company. Residents even have created a Facebook page: “Annandale Needs To Get Rid Of Windstream!”

A representative for Windstream wasn’t immediately available for comment Thursday night.

Now, Annandale city officials are contemplating taking matters into their own hands.

With a grant from the Blandin Foundation, a Grand Rapids-based rural development foundation, Annandale recently completed a feasibility study of steps the city could take to bolster Internet service. They include having the city take the lead in building a broadband network, partnering with Windstream to upgrade its network or enticing a competing provider to serve Annandale.

Hinnenkamp said city officials are set to meet in the coming weeks to discuss a potential course of action. She says it’s clear the status quo won’t do for Annandale’s residents and businesses.

“It becomes a quality of life issue to our residents,” Hinnenkamp said. “It’s really the lifeline to our community.”

Broadband II? Sen. Schmit from Minnesota isn’t the only one interested in hearing what people think of their Internet service. NPR’s “Weekend All Things Considered” has a crowdsource reporting query on its Facebook page  asking folks to provide information on the quality of their broadband access. The thread accompanying the request has about 400 comments as of this writing.

Calls from Home. WBUR’s Here and Now  has a report on a radio call-in program at WMMT in Whitesburg, Kentucky, that broadcasts messages from loved ones to inmates serving time in several prisons located in the region.

Rural Mortgages. Two separate reports highlight the impact of publicly backed housing programs for helping rural residents become home owners. The Nevada Rural Housing Authority announced that it helped 884 families with federal home loans in 2013, more than double the number served in 2012. In Iowa, the state director of the USDA Rural Development said the agency helped 2,663 families secure $277 million in home loans. That’s a growth 16% from the previous year.

Abandoned Pets. Residents who live in the countryside outside Calgary, Alberta, in Canada say city residents are abandoning pets outside the city limits.  

“It is a criminal offence to abandon an animal. If you are doing it in a rural area, especially in this kind of weather, you’re virtually assuring the animal’s death whether it’s the weather or predation,” said Brad Nichols, a peace officer and manager of Cruelty Investigations for the city of Calgary.

 

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