Monday, July 27, 2015

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.

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