Monday, July 27, 2015

Was $3 worth destroying the state over?

You know that property tax cut Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP promised would be part of the state budget? The Legislative Fiscal Bureau gave a look into projections for the average Wisconsinite's tax bill, and let's just say I wouldn't plan on getting a nice Christmas bonus off your December tax bill. Not surprisingly, a main culprit is the funneling of tens of millions of dollars from public school districts to vouchers.
The Legislature made several changes to SB 21 [the state budget bill] that affected the estimated property tax levels for school districts. Under Act 55, districts will be able to count incoming pupils who begin participating in the Racine or statewide private school choice programs in the 2015-16 school year or thereafter for revenue limit and general aid purposes. Act 55 also provides a revenue limit adjustment for consolidated school districts. Modifications were also made to per pupil payments and estimated participation in the independent charter school program and private school choice programs, which would affect the backfill levy associated with those programs. Compared to the Governor, these modifications are estimated to increase property tax levels by $21.0 million in 2015(16) and $23.5 million in 2016(17) for school districts and by $0.7 million in 2015(16) and $0.9 million in 2016(17) for tax incremental districts.

As a result of the preceding changes, gross property tax levies are estimated to increase on a statewide basis by 1.9% in 2015(16) and 0.8% in 2016(17), and net tax levies would increase by an estimated 1.1% in 2015(16) and 0.9% in 2016(17). These tax changes would translate into tax bills for a median-valued home estimated at $2,830 in 2015(16) and $2,828 in 2016(17). These represent decreases of $1 (-0.04%) in 2015(16) and $2 (-0.07%) in 2016(17).
THREE WHOLE DOLLARS OVER TWO YEARS???! That won't even buy a gallon of milk.

Hope THAT was worth fucking over public education, local government services, and having our roads become more likely to be filled with potholes. Oh, and because of (right-to) work-for-less, the repeal of some prevailing wage provisions, and higher co-pays for insurance (if you're a public employee), you'll be likely taking home a lot less than the $3 in property tax you MAY save. I'd much rather have my taxes go up and live in a state and community that's growing and caring about its citizens than getting this insulting pittance of a tax break. And if you don't feel the same, you are one pathetic dead-ender.

Had enough, yet?

More Bucks arena sliminess should make Assembly Dems play hardball

Tomorrow's the big day to see if the Bucks arena bill will pass the State Assembly, and on the day before the big vote, Steve Horn and Michael Arria wrote an in-depth piece in the online site Truthdig going over some the behind-the-scenes dealings with this bill. It's an excellent read.

The article first explores the close connections Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry has to the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton's current campaign, along with former Bucks owner Herb Kohl's involvement in the team and the project. But the more damning stuff on the Dem-related seems to come from another recent Bucks co-owner, Wes Edens, who not only is a billionaire that's looking for a public handout, but is accused of making some of it at the expense of some of Milwaukee's poorest people.
Activists from the group Common Ground in Milwaukee have decried Edens as a slumlord for profiting from over a dozen foreclosed homes in Milwaukee via a company that Fortress Investment Group owns a majority stake in, Nationstar Mortgage. Edens serves as Nationstar’s chairman. Common Ground has launched a campaign called “Fair Play” and written a report titled “Envisioning Fair Play,” calling for public subsidies to go toward sports playing fields that are in terrible condition in Milwaukee County’s poorest communities.
However, Edens comes off as a choirboy in the article compared to the slimeballs at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Not only has the pro-Walker MMAC been a major promoter of this project (because there's nothing those oligarchs love more than to take profits at taxpayer expense), but it's created an Astroturf front group called "Play it Forward" to try to trick the average person into thinking this arena has strong community support. Truthdig points out that Play It Forward has deep connections with current and former Walker Administration officials, lobbyists, and other upper-crusters, and the MMAC's buddies include a few familiar names to those of you who follow this blog.
A June 9 press release disseminated by Play It Forward announcing a rally lists Buddy Julius as the contact person; Julius runs the public relations and lobbying group Tthe Firm Consulting. He previously worked as a lobbyist for the Metro Milwaukee Association of Realtors, another founding member of Play It Forward along with the MMAC. The Firm’s website lists the MMAC as one of its clients.

Julius’ co-partner at The Firm is Ryan Murray (!), former deputy secretary and chief executive of the scandal-ridden Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) for the Walker administration, former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Walker and policy director for Walker’s 2010 victorious run for governor over Barrett. Murray also previously worked as communications director for Republican Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a key point man for the Bucks’ arena effort. Fitzgerald’s younger brother and former Wisconsin Legislature colleague, Jeff, (!)now lobbies for the Bucks.

Metadata reviewed by Truthdig for the June 9 Play It Forward press release shows it was actually written by Steve Baas, one of the two MMAC registered lobbyists for the arena subsidy. Andrew Davis, the other MMAC lobbyist registered to lobby on behalf of the Bucks, formerly worked as director of external relations for Walker before getting the MMAC lobbying gig.
But even with all of this GOP-related lobbying, apparently a number of Democratic votes will be required to push this through, despite Republicans having a 63-36 advantage in the lower house of the Legislature. Dem Assembly Leader Peter Barca says the Dems still have a few demands they'd like to see, and a Milwaukee Business Journal story mentions that Barca will put forth a few Dem amendments to the bill. The biggest change to the Senate bill would be the inclusion of a "meaningful jobs" requirement for jobs associated with the Bucks arena.
The possibility of the Bucks agreeing to pay "living wages" once the project is complete was discussed by state Senate Democrats, but never reached the bill that a bipartisan Senate approved.

Support from at least 15 Democrats will be necessary for the arena-funding bill to pass the state Assembly, where Republicans hold a 2-to-1 advantage. Many out-state Republicans are expected to oppose the state contributing up to $4 million per year to paying arena construction debt (now reduced to $3.5 million with the $2 ticket tax offsetting an estimated $500,000 of the state's contribution) ....

It was not clear whether Barca’s reference to “meaningful jobs” was the same as wage and local-hiring requirements sought by a coalition of unions, community and faith-based organizations in Milwaukee called Alliance for Good Jobs.
Published reports indicate that around 15 of the Assembly's 36 Dems will be needed in order to have any Bucks bill pass, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke indicates that this will happen tomorrow.
Steineke says he 'fully expects' to have enough votes to pass the measure when the Assembly convenes at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

"This is something I grudgingly came around on, because I do think it overall is a good deal for the state," he said. "When you look at just the economics of if, the amount of money that we put into it is far less than the money that we get back. If we do nothing, the state loses revenue. And that's just something that we can't afford right now, so I do support the overall deal, but I do also get the concerns of the people of Brown County."

But some lawmakers, like State Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay, say their constituents don't support it.

"Especially in the context of this $250 million cut to the UW public colleges and universities," said Genrich. "To give $250 million of taxpayer money to billionaire owners of the Milwaukee Bucks is just tough for a lot of taxpayers and citizens to take in Green Bay and Northeast Wisconsin."
Interestingly, in the Fox 11 report out of Green Bay, Kaukauna's Steineke may be one the few people from northeastern Wisconsin that will vote for the bill. Fellow Republican John Macco of suburban GB expresses reservations in the story about forcing state taxpayers to fund the Bucks arena, in light of no state funding being put into the recent Lambeau Field renovations, leaving Brown County to have to put in a 0.5% sales tax by themselves to help fix up the home of the Packers.

I also don't remember the Packers bill having the level of sketchiness that's been associated with this Bucks arena bill. I just scratched the surface of Horn and Arria's Truthdig article, and as mentioned before, read the whole thing if you got a chance. If people like those oligarch scum are spending so much time and effort trying to shove through this Bucks bill, you know it can't be a good thing. Barring major concessions on issues involving more funding for Milwaukee jobs and schools, I would strongly encourage Rep. Barca and other Dems in the Assembly to make the GOPs be the ones that vote for this corrupt deal as it stands now. And they can do so by at least demanding that some Dem amendments get through (making the Senate have to vote for the amended bill, and giving more time for stories like Horn's and Arria's to come out), or else say "NO SALE" to the whole thing.

A mistake Dems have frequently made in this state over the last 4 years is to give cover to GOPs on some really bad bills, thinking it makes them look like "nice guys" and "bipartisan problem solvers." How's that worked out for ya at election time? This was the baby of Scott Walker, his Milwaukee oligarch supporters, and the Bucks' billionaire owners. Make them be the ones that put up for it, and not the average Milwaukee taxpayer.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Here's more ammo for Trump on Walker's failing record

Here's another one to add to the list of Scott Walker economic failures. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve updated its figures for the coincident indexes of all 50 states last week, then released the June coincident indexes on Friday. When put in perspective over the course of 4 1/2 years under Walker, it keeps Wisconsin in the cellar for growth in this index when compared to our Midwestern neighbors.

On Tuesday, the Philly Fed will update its leading indexes, indicating what it expects the economy to do in all 50 states over the next 6 months. We'll see if there is a change for Wisconsin from the outlook that was there in May, where we were a Midwestern standout for a bad reason.

So if Donald Trump wants more smack to lay down on Scott Walker's economic record in Wisconsin, here you go Don!

The ongoing foolishness of (mo)Ron Johnson

After a nice afternoon at AtwoodFest, I got home to unwind and watch the Brewers game, only to be interrupted by some right-wing PAC running an ad which has already been rated as a "pants on fire" lie by the right-wing leaning "Politifact" at the Journal-Sentinel. I don't know who these militarists are trying to reach with this bullshit, but it's not anyone who lives above ground.

That ad also led MSNBC's Chris Hayes to run this segment (h/t to Democurmudgeon for having this clip), which includes a guest appearance by Ruth Conniff of the Progressive, to go over the foolishness of the Senator this PAC is trying to prop up, Wisconsin's own (mo)Ron Johnson. They start by going into one of (mo)Ron's recent embarrasments, where he dictated a ridiculous theory to U.S. Secretary of Energy and nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz about a scenario that seems to have come out of a sci-fi magazine. And then Conniff reminds us of (mo)Ron's other greatest hits.

And let's not forget one of my favorites, in the middle of BENGHAZI hearings in January 2013, the (mo)Ron Senator admitted he hadn't done his homework as he tried to interrogate then-incoming Defense Secretary John Kerry
Johnson: Okay. Will you work with me then, on an ongoing basis, so we can get that behind us, so we can find out what actually happened, and then we can move beyond that? I mean, can you just make that commitment to me?

Kerry: Well I think, Senator, in all fairness, we do know what happened. I think it is very clear — were you at the briefing with the tapes?

Johnson: No.

Kerry: Well, there was a briefing with tapes, which we all saw — those of us who went to it — which made it crystal clear.
We sat for several hours with our intel folks, who described to us precisely what we were seeing. We saw all of the events unfold. We had a very complete and detailed description.
Oh, but Sen. Johnson KNOWS what happened.....because he was told the "truth" by the same neocons/Israelites at the Restoration PAC (who I'm sure have no financial or political interest AT ALL). I think one of the best responses to this week's absurdities of (mo)Ron Johnson was expressed by State Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, who responded to Johnson's statement on Icki McKenna's show that liberals think Milwaukee children are "idiot inner-city kids" who don't deserve better opportunities.
As a product of the Milwaukee Public School System, I find Senator Ron Johnson’s comments unfitting of the office of a United States Senator. I currently live in the same Milwaukee neighborhood in which I was raised and represent many of the great and hard-working families and children of MPS. These students need the same support, opportunities and respect afforded suburban districts by many of our elected officials. They need legislators that will fight to keep funding in their schools and quality teachers in their classrooms. Instead, these children are treated as political pawns. Senator Johnson needs to take ownership of his words. Hiding behind what he called sarcasm, Johnson pawned off his views on liberals and Democrats. In the more than a decade I’ve represented Milwaukee, I’ve never heard a fellow Democrat call inner-city school children idiots. However, I have heard the word used often to describe some politicians and their actions. - State Sen. Lena Taylor
Then again, (mo)Ron Johnson and the dwindling handful of losers who still support this guy are the living embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and arrives at erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the perverse situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence: because competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.
God, we need Russ back in the worst way.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rep. Weatherston, Bruce Murphy with updates on Bucks bill

I wanted to give you a couple of updated takes on the Bucks arena bill, which is still scheduled to be debated in the Assembly next Tuesday. The first comes from State Rep. Tom Weatherston, a Republican who represents suburban Racine. Weatherston has been at the forefront of trying to end the 0.1% Miller Park sales tax in the Milwaukee area, and wrote an intriguing press release explaining what he sees as the difference between the Miller Park bill from 20 years ago, and the current Bucks bill. The first contrast that Weatherston makes is that there is a sunset to how long most government payments will be made to the Bucks arena, as opposed to the open-ended Miller Park tax.
First, the Miller Park bill created a sales tax in Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties. And, like any tax, once it’s established it’s hard to make it go away. Just look at news accounts regarding the stadium tax over the years. On January 7, 2005, the Stadium Board reported, “the stadium tax remains on track to end in 2014.” Then on March 4, 2008, a stadium consultant reported that, “the sales tax might extend to 2017.” Two years later in 2010 financial projections suggested that the Miller Park stadium sales tax will be paid off “between 2016 and 2018.” Three years after that in March of 2013, a forecast said the Miller Park sales tax could end “as soon as 2016 or as late as 2020.” In March of this year the financial advisor to the Stadium District said in a letter that “we believe the District should be able to satisfy all of its outstanding obligations between 2017 and 2020.” The Bucks Arena bill does not create a new tax.
While some of that delay in ending the Miller Park tax is due to the two recessions that hit the area especially hard in the 2000s, Weatherston is mostly right o this point. The only direct tax money designated for the Bucks arena is through the Wisconsin Center District, and that is in the form of hotel and rental car taxes that are already in place.

Weatherston goes on to note that unlike Miller Park, the Bucks arena bill's taxpayer costs are merely for construction, are capped at a set figure, and will not include ongoing maintenance. All of those issues has resulted in a rising price tag that taxpayers have had to shell out for the Brewers stadium over the last 2 decades.
Next, the Miller Park legislation contained no taxpayer protections and set up a Stadium District with little oversight. The legislation that made Miller Park possible said that taxpayers were liable for $160 million of the estimated $250 million in construction costs with the Brewers making up the $90 million balance. But by the time the stadium construction was completed, taxpayer liability increased to $310 million when construction costs ballooned over the life of the project to nearly $400 million. Cost overruns were picked up courtesy of you, the taxpayer, because there were no protections in the bill. The Bucks Arena bill limits state taxpayer liability to $80 million, cost overruns are paid for out of the owner’s pockets.

Finally, the lease is where the insult was added to the injury to the taxpayers after the Miller Park bill was passed. Taxpayers are treated as an unwitting third party to the lease. The Stadium District as the landlord sticks taxpayers with the bill for a large portion of the costs of maintenance and upkeep. The lease requires the team to pay rent, yet the rent they pay doesn’t even cover the maintenance costs of Miller Park. What kind of landlord does that you ask? The same kind of landlord that plans to buy two more brand new scoreboards, the second one in the final year of the lease, at a cost of $6 million each. Further, did you know taxpayers paid a good chunk of the costs for the “mini-Miller Park” officially known as Helfaer Field (the Little League Park in the Miller Park parking lot) ?.... The cost of the field was $3.1 million with $2.1 million coming from the Helfaer Foundation. Taxpayers and the team were liable for a 70/30 split respectively for the remaining $1.1 million. Is this maintenance and upkeep? Under the Bucks arena legislation, after the arena is built, maintenance and upkeep and improvements are the Bucks’ responsibility, not the taxpayer’s.
I'll have a bit of a quibble with Weatherston's comment about the Bucks bill not paying for improvements, because the current Bucks bill still plans to spend $10 million to fix up the Bradley Center over the last two years that the Bucks would play in it (it's provision b on Page 3 of the 2.0 bill, and that hasn't been amended as of this time). But otherwise, I think these points are spot-on, and are improvements over the Miller Park bill that Weatherston calls "the model of what not to do" when it comes to funding sports arenas.

But that doesn't mean there still aren't a ton of goodies and other subsidies in this Bucks bill, as Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee pointed out this Thursday. Here a tasting of the hundreds of millions in tax breaks and other extra perks that the Bucks and this arena will get, as opposed to the typical private business in Milwaukee.
A property tax exemption will extend to nine acres of development by the Milwaukee Bucks, which the bill says “may include offices of the professional basketball team…, parking spaces and garages, storage or loading facilities, access ways, sidewalks, skywalks, plazas, transportation facilities, and sports team stores.” We will never learn the total value of this complex because its exempt and will never be appraised by the city, but even assuming a value of just the $500 million estimate for the arena, that’s nearly $15 million in property taxes lost annually or $450 million over 30 years. (For a real business the assessed value might be lower than this but over time the tax rate would rise and I’m applying current rate for all 30 years.)...

-A sales tax exemption on building materials, equipment and supplies used solely in the construction of the arena. Assuming the cost of materials, etc. for the arena is, say, $300 million, that exemption would be worth about $17 million to the team.

-A sales tax exemption on luxury boxes which will be carried over from current law, which makes luxury boxes for an NBA arena sales tax exempt. In the NBA the average luxury box cost about $206,000 annually. Assuming 30 boxes, that’s six million in income annually, which would have generated $336,000 per year, or about $10 million over 30 years. (An regressive contrast to the $2 ticket tax that's part of the current arena bill, and the sales tax us regular folks already pay on tickets.)

-A sales tax exemptions on all retail within the arena, basically for concessions stands and other retail not normally open to the public. Any licensed bars or restaurants regularly open to the public will be subject to property and sales taxes.
And the Bucks would also be exempt from the state's corporate income tax, which is a nice bonus when you realize NBA teams will be making money hand-over-fist in the coming years with the league's new broadcasting deal. Murphy also mentions that the city of Milwaukee will have to borrow to build its portion of the infrastructure that it's contributing to the arena, and in addition to the Bucks picking up parking revenue from the garage being donated by the City, Milwaukee will lose parking revenue from the structure on 4th Street that it currently operates, but will demolish for the arena.

It is those local government costs, along with the contrast to the loss of education funding and other services in Milwaukee that make me oppose this arena (well, that and the corrupt ties between Gov Walker support of the arena and Walker 2016 finance chair Jon Hammes, whose company stands to make millions on this deal). As mentioned previously, I think a simple local Milwaukee County sales tax is the best way to go if you want to have public funding toward such an arena, and it can even be done in such a way to make Rep. Weatherston happy by killing the Miller Park tax at the same time. In addition, I think having the $4 million cut to Milwaukee County shared revenues to start in 2016, before there is a new arena, is a double-whammy, and the cut should be put off until 2017, when the County could realize the revenues from the new facility to offset some of that cut. Maybe some of the Assembly reps could throw that in as an amendment, which I'd think the Senate would have no problem concurring with.

Both Weatherston and Murphy's articles are good food for thought as this bill goes back for debate at the Capitol next week, and we'll see what the outcome is, and if any changes end up getting made to the arena bill.

Brilliant article on effects of suburb-based Wisconsin Transportation

If you have 15-30 minutes over the weekend, take a look at this outstanding article in Politico Magazine by Michael Grunwald on Wisconsin’s transportation policies. Entitled “Overpasses: A Love Story”, Grunwald talks about how the state, and especially the Milwaukee area, has been affected by its devotion to building more and more freeways in the last 50 years, to the delight of the Road Builders lobby and related campaign contributors. Grunwald hints that it’s not a change for the better, either fiscally or socially, and that the situation has worsened in the last 4 ½ years since Scott Walker and WisGOP took over state government.
I got a firsthand look at the consequences in Wisconsin, where snazzy megaprojects crowd out basic repairs, and politicians lavish attention on big highways at the expense of local roads and public transit. The anti-sprawl group Smart Growth American found that from 2009 to 2011, Wisconsin spent only 39 percent of its highway dollars on maintenance, versus 61 percent on new highway capacity that added to its maintenance backlog. As the state has shifted resources into freeway megaprojects, 71 percent of its roads are in mediocre or poor condition, according to federal data. Fourteen percent of its bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, which is actually better than the national average. Walker and his fellow Republicans have killed plans for light rail, commuter rail, high-speed rail, and dedicated bus lanes on major highways, so there is almost no public transportation connecting Milwaukee to its suburbs, intensifying divisions in one of the nation’s most racially, economically and politically segregated metropolitan areas. Yet Walker, who is running for president as a staunch fiscal conservative, has pushed a $250 million-per-mile plan to widen Interstate 94 between the Marquette and the Zoo despite fierce local opposition.

In some ways, Wisconsin represents an extreme example of the priorities that have traditionally dominated U.S. transportation policy, In some states, regional transit agencies are underfunded; in Wisconsin, thanks to Walker and the legislature, they’re illegal. Walker also killed a “Complete Streets” program that pushed road builders to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians. The drive to promote driving has gotten so relentless that the courts have begun to apply the brakes. In a ruling with national implications, a federal judge recently blocked a $143 million expansion of a state highway between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan, citing absurdly inflated traffic estimates that Wisconsin transportation officials had used to justify it. Another potentially precedent-setting lawsuit alleged the Zoo project would serve suburban commuters at the expense of inner-city minorities; the Walker administration had to fund three new bus routes to settle it.
In addition to the cutting and limiting of non-driving transportation options, the 262 Republicans that support Walker and their 1980s mentality of "drive-drive-drive" and "sprawl-sprawl-sprawl" have let to policies that hamper the ability of local Wisconsin communities to fix their own streets. And as Grunwald notes, the Governor and his backers don’t seem to want people to find about its big-spending history on expressways and their high-dollar future plans when it comes to transportation.
State transportation officials, who initially agreed to show me around their [SE Wisconsin] megaprojects, later cancelled my tour and declined to comment; I was told by others that Walker’s aides had intervened. Goss and some of his colleagues with the road builders showed me around instead, and they noted that WISDOT actually backed off an earlier plan to double-deck that stretch of I-94, which would have been even more expensive and intrusive. The larger point for defenders of the megaprojects is that whether or not you like the carbon emissions, the land-use patterns, or the implications for the social contract, most Wisconsinites drive, and they do a lot of their driving on freeways. Only about 8 percent of the Milwaukee area’s commuters walk, bike, or take buses to work. The economy runs on concrete.

The critics argue that even for Wisconsinites who do drive, the state’s rush to supersize highways is draining upkeep for the local roads they use every day, like adding a new wing onto a house with a leaky roof and a busted furnace. In 2003, the ratio of state spending on highways to local roads was about 2:1. By 2013, the ratio had soared to more than 3:1—and state law prohibits municipalities from raising sales taxes to fix their own roads. [note: several legislators up North have sponsored a bill that would allow such a sales tax for local roads] Juan Carlos Ruiz, a Latino activist in Milwaukee, showed me around some of the city’s minority neighborhoods, where gutted streets contribute to a sense of malaise. Mandela Barnes, a young African-American state representative from the city’s north side, told me he recently had to replace the suspension on his Dodge Charger, a casualty of local potholes. Jeff Parisi, a contractor who has helped repair Main Streets in small towns like Waunakee, Platteville and Stoughton, said he’s scrambling to adjust to cuts in local road aid, and small towns with aging Main Streets are, too.
And here it is worth mentioning that while the Zoo Interchange did receive a haircut in the final state budget, as the North end of the project will be delayed by 2 years, it is nothing compared to the effects that will be seen by a $250 million total cut in other major state highways outside of Southeast Wisconsin, and a cut of over 6% in each year to state and local highway maintenance (and that's in dollar amounts. Given that highway inflation is high right now, the real cut will be much higher).

Interestingly, the Walker/WisGOP budget still counts on using the same amount of Federal Highway funds as the base 2014-15 year budget, with a disproportionate amount of federal funds going to pay for major highways and maintenance outside of the Milwaukee area megaprojects. This is noteworthy given that the federal highway trust fund runs out next week, and there is no bill that has been passed to replace it, and no agreement in place. Oddly, the Walker Administration and WisGOP doesn't seem to be worried about the possibility of these Federal Highway funds not being there next week or being drastically reduced, which in stark contrast to their excuse of not expanding Medicaid because there is no guarantee of Obamacare funding being 2020!

Walker also cut state shared revenues in his first budget, and has generally failed to fully restore them for the 4 years since. This newly-installed budget does not set aside any additional funds for local road aids, transit, or state shared revenues, which means the higher costs of road repair get put onto local property taxes, or services in those communities get cut. This will then mean those costs of deferred maintenance pile up, and more expenses have to be shelled out for in future budgets…which already have structural deficits built into them due to the refusal of Walker and WisGOP to raise taxes or fees to pay for their current road-building binges.

I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing this weekend, as it touches on the racial, anti-city politics that are a main part of this regressive strategy on transportation. (For example, Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos is quoted in the story as saying public transit is a “social service than a traditional transportation program”, intended to give more state taxpayer dollars to poor people in cities.) We can only hope that more of this kind of in-depth reporting with context continues to come out on how Scott Walker REALLY has operated, so the rest of the nation could see how damaging the "divide and conquer" mentality would be if it came from the Oval Office, and how that mentality would make the U.S. fall behind the developed and developing world when it came to transportation.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Is Hammes the real reason Walker backed the Bucks arena?

With the Bucks arena scheduled to have its final debate in the State Assembly next week before hitting Gov Scott Walker’s desk, let’s take a look at why a GOP presidential candidate would want to openly support a multi-million dollar handout to a sports team a few months before the first primaries. As we’ve found out over the last few days, it may well have to do with a connection Walker has with his campaign’s recently installed co-chair of finance, Jon Hammes.

I've previously mentioned this article by David Sirota and Andrew Perez in the International Business Times, which noted how Hammes stands to be a big winner if the Bucks arena becomes reality.
However, before Walker proposed the arena deal, Hammes had donated more than $15,000 to his gubernatorial campaigns, according to state campaign finance data. Federal records also show that over the last decade, Hammes has donated almost $280,000 to Republican candidates and third-party groups -- including more than $14,000 to the Wisconsin Republican Party. Hammes Company in 2010 donated $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which that year spent heavily in support of Walker's first run for governor. Jon Hammes also contributed $500 to Walker while he was a Milwaukee county executive.

Hammes became one of the part owners of the Bucks in 2014. A little more than three months later, Walker unveiled his proposal to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a new arena for the team. The team currently plays at BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee….

…Hammes’ firm also was contracted by the local chamber of commerce to evaluate new stadium proposals. The company has expertise in that area, having been involved in the construction of the New York Giants’ stadium and the renovation of the Green Bay Packers’ home at Lambeau Field in Wisconsin.
That seems to answer the question why the allegedly “free-market conservative Governor (HEY! I hear your WEDC jokes!) sent a proposal to the State Legislature that would have shelled out $488 million to help build an arena for billionaire owners of Milwaukee’s NBA team. You really think these things are all coincidence? If so, then if the Bucks move to Vegas (as is rumored if the arena doesn’t go through), Hammes should go along with them, because he’d make a killing at the casinos and sports books with that kind of "luck."

I’ll also forward you to this article from Journal-Sentinel real estate reporter Tom Daykin from 3 weeks ago, which goes over Hammes’ recent land dealings in downtown Milwaukee.
An investment group led by developer Jon Hammes has purchased a large vacant downtown lot near a Park East site where Hammes proposed to build offices.

The 1.5-acre parcel, 210 E. Knapp St., was sold by BMO Harris Bank to HFJV LLC for $1 million, according to state real estate records posted Friday. The vacant lot is bordered by E. Knapp, N. Water and N. Market streets.

That property is just east of a 2.6-acre site between N. Water St. and the Milwaukee River, north of E. Knapp St., where Hammes has proposed developing three or four offices buildings--if the project can land tenants and financing.
And hey, whaddya know? All of those sites are just a few blocks across the Milwaukee River from where the new arena would be. And it’s within a block of a lot that Hammes’ group bought in November, after Walker’s re-election, but before Scotty’s original Bucks plan was released in January.

Remarkably, Daykin’s article brings up the new Bucks arena being nearby, but in the week since Sirota and Perez’s report in the International Business Times, neither the Journal-Sentinel nor the Wisconsin State Journal has said a word about the Walker-Hammes connection, and how Hammes stands to make a huge profit off of developments associated with the arena. Sure makes you wonder if these guys are avoiding the issue on purpose, as a way to curry favor with Jon Hammes, the other Bucks owners, and related big hitters in the state. There especially seems to be the case with the J-S, as their headquarters are located just blocks from the new arena and they would get a nice bump from increased property values around the new arena. In addition, radio station WTMJ 620 is the Bucks’ flagship, and they would likely get increased readership for their paper from having an NBA team.

Dave Zirin summed up this sketchy cronyism in an article he wrote yesterday morning for the Nation, and how it ties directly back to Scott Walker’s SOP, and the scumminess of his puppetmasters.
This absence of shame—coupled with an adolescent’s ardor for Ayn Rand—has long been Scott Walker’s defining characteristic and we are witnessing it again in his slavish pursuit of Bucks-bucks. Take a step back, and the man’s cheeky chutzpah provokes a near awe: Walker has—amidst a highly scrutinized presidential campaign—chosen to bankroll a billionaire backer with corporate welfare who in return will head his presidential financial operation. The optics of this are patently corrosive enough as is, but it’s even worse than that. Walker and the Wisconsin state legislature will pay for it by slashing roughly the same amount of the cost of the stadium from the state’s higher education budget. Over a quarter-billion for the arena and a quarter-billion siphoned from higher ed, and the giving of absolutely no fucks in how it all looks.

This isn’t politics. This isn’t differing economic philosophies. This isn’t even simple hypocrisy. This is trolling-as-governance, and Scott Walker is an expert in this art. This is what compels him to compare trade unionists to ISIS or stand up for the Confederate flag before the Charleston dead had even been put to rest (and then flip on the issue again), or rail against marriage equality while his own children cringe in shame, or stand up for the sanctity of Native American mascots. These qualities undoubtedly make him attractive to a section of the Republican base, the ones currently waving Confederate flags north of the Mason-Dixon Line and hosting Muhammad-drawing contests. He is attempting something audacious: trying to win the Republican nomination solely by relying on a coalition of the “jackass” wing of the party. One can already see his finance team approaching all egg avatars to join the Walker team.
Hey Dave, as an aside, if you’ve read comment sections in local papers or Facebook, and took a gander at some of the criminal complaints in the John Doe investigation, it’s pretty clear Scotty’s boys have been paying posters to front for him for years.

Zirin’s ending sentences are more accurate than he even knows, because it really does sum up the "262 wing" of the Wisconsin Republican Party these days ( Hi, Speaker Vos! Which public records are you wishing to hide today?).
At least we know why Hammes sees a kindred spirit in Scott Walker: They both share an absence of shame and an utter absence of fear that anyone will hold them to account.
Let’s see if they get held to that account in the next 5 days, before the Bucks bill is schedule to hit the Assembly floor on the 28th. I already oppose public funding of the arena because I think there are about 100 other needs in Milwaukee and Wisconsin over the Bucks. Now add in the recent dot-connecting by Sirota, Zirin, and other journalists on this Hammes-Walker connection, and it’s got the stench of Chicago-style corruption on top of the foolish use of tax dollars.

No Dem in the Assembly should go along with this crooked scheme, and that includes the reps from Milwaukee. Even if Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry promises to raise big money for them like he has for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, this thing is being done in the wrong way, and I would not associate myself with it.