Students worldwide walked out of school on Friday, March 15th, pressuring the government to take aggressive action to combat climate change and its effects.
One of the pieces of legislation supported by the recent Climate Strike here in Madison is the Green New Deal. This piece of legislation will be voted on at the city council meeting starting at 6:30pm on Tuesday, March 19th. Madison students will be gathering outside the City County Building at 6:00 to show solidarity in their support of the Green New Deal and the members of the Madison Common Council who support it.
To find out more about this issue, I decided to speak with Mr. Matthew Phair, the Alderman of Madison’s twentieth district.
To start off, can you describe your duties as alderman?
It’s sort of a dual role of representing your constituents (I have about 15,000 or so that I represent) and responding to their concerns from snow plowing to safety. Then there is the role of working on the city council to oversee city policy, create city ordinances, and oversee the budget (roughly a $500 million budget), and just move the city forward. You have to represent your district and also think about what’s best for the city too.
How much have you heard about the Green New Deal?
I’ve definitely paid attention to it. I know it’s not so much a legislative document as much as a messaging document or inspirational document, but I’ve definitely listened to punditry (1) about it. It’s great. I’m glad we’re moving in this direction. I’m excited.
So you’re feeling that you will vote positively on this? On the 19th?
I don’t think that any of this will be binding, so I can’t see why I wouldn’t support it. All the ideals are great and all the aspirations and goals listed are things we should be striving for as a city.
If this “deal” is passed, would it have any concrete powers?
No. Unless it was put into ordinance form, it will be more of a plan. It will guide city policy and budget decision, but it wouldn’t be necessarily binding.
Do you feel the whole council will support this bill?
Yes, I think that you will see support. The council is pretty progressive. If you’ve been listening to the mayor’s debate in the primary and general elections, there have been a lot of discussions about climate change and about how Madison can lead on climate change. There are no science deniers on the council in Madison.
Has anything like this ever been proposed before?
No. I mean, nothing this sweeping. The sustainability committee passed a resolution, a plan really, a sustainable Madison plan, that put Madison on a path with the goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030.
So we’re already on track for that?
That is our guiding principle. Again, it’s up to policymakers to do that and make that happen, and we are. There are definitely steps that we’ve taken along that way and hopefully will continue to be taken.
Is there something more that can be done to push for that?
I’m sure there could be. Now it will come down to individual things, electrifying all our city buses for example. This is something we are starting slowly, but if the council wanted to push for that, they could do that through a budgetary item. The new Madison Municipal building is as green as you can get, but we have other buildings I think could be looked at to enhance efficiency and become 100% neutral. Those will be steps, incremental, non-sexy things, but that’s what you really have to do to get where we want to go.
The other thing that is needed, and has been missed for a long time, is strong mayoral leadership. We have a strong mayoral system (in Madison). The mayor is the chief executive, as well as the figurehead. The figurehead part of it, you know the bully pulpit (2) part of it, could be used to show the community what it means to be 100% neutral, what it means to be leading the way in sustainability, as we are in a lot of ways. This isn’t only about what city government can do behind the scenes, but it’s really about getting people on board and getting regular folks to think about what climate change means in their lives. I think that’s really needed and it also helps people to start thinking, “Hey. I need to be pressuring my state representatives and my federal representatives.” That’s where the real difference is going to be eventually, if we’re ever going get done what we need to do. Which really there is no choice, is there?
That’s something that I’m hoping, if we have a new mayor, will change: more leadership on this issue.
If Madison takes the lead on this issue, will other communities in Wisconsin follow?
I think so. I don’t know what other communities are doing, to be honest. I’m assuming Milwaukee is doing a lot as they are very progressive. A lot of the smaller communities probably are not. They may be thinking “we’re just a little city, what does it matter?”. But that’s just the thing, right? Hopefully in the state government now too, we have the bully pulpit in the governor’s mansion. A lot of this is public momentum. I love that this group of students is pushing us to do things. And we’re seeing that at the federal level too. We’re seeing young, new congress members and their supporters really pushing the old white guys [laughs] to change (and white women, I should say- just the older generation). I think using that platform we have in government, we can kind of help the two way street of grassroots support and government support to get more people on board. That’s what we need, we need critical mass. It’s a role that people don’t always think about, especially in local government, because we sometimes get nose to the grindstone like we have this policy, that policy, this piece of legislation. A lot of times we have a bigger role and we have to use it.
Will the Green New Deal affect taxes at all in Madison?
So it all depends on the policy and outcome afterwards. However, the larger point is, as we move towards sustainability, 100% renewable energy, and carbon free we will have to make budget priorities. So, it depends what decisions are made. If we just add more things and don’t trim in other ways, then yes. Taxes go up. Taxes go up every year anyways. Like all budgets, it’s all about priorities and this will be a priority for the city of Madison. It has to be.
I heard this is your last year as a city councilor. Can you talk about that decision?
I’ve been doing this for eight years, four terms. It’s just time to move on for a few reasons. So that new leadership can step up, and also just for family. My kids are getting older and busier. It was just time.
1 – Punditry: the opinions or methods of a learned person, expert, or authority.
2 – Bully Pulpit: a position of authority or public visibility, especially a political office, from which one may express one’s views.
To read more about the Green New Deal being proposed here in Madison, click here.
To read the full platform of the Wisconsin Youth Climate Strike, click here.
– Garrett Kennedy