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Gov. Scott Walker has done the opposite of Gov. Mark Dayton when it comes to issues of the budget, work  and more. And the numbers are coming in.
Gov. Scott Walker has done the opposite of Gov. Mark Dayton when it comes to issues of the budget, work and more. And the numbers are coming in. (Photo: wisn.com)

State economic policies have consequences

In recent years, BizTimes has published news stories of dozens of Illinois businesses that have moved across the border into Wisconsin.

Most of those companies have moved into Kenosha County. By any measure, the Badger State appears to be taking Illinois’ lunch money.

However, the relationship between Wisconsin and its western neighbor, Minnesota, appears to be a vastly different story. By virtually every measure, Minnesota is taking Wisconsin’s lunch money, according to a recent study by the LaCrosse Tribune, which lies right at the border.

First, a review. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (a Republican) and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (a Democrat) were both elected to office in 2010. They both inherited large state budget deficits.

Walker, who was facing a 9.2 percent unemployment rate and a $3.6 billion deficit, and the Republican Legislature passed massive spending cuts to public education and enacted the controversial Act 10 to require most public employees to pay more for their health care and pensions. Some tax credits for lower income residents were reduced. Business tax incentives were added, and taxes were cut nearly $2 billion through a combination of income and property tax reductions.

Dayton tackled a $5 billion deficit. Minnesota balanced its budget in part by borrowing against its commitment to education aid. After the 2012 elections, when Democrats took control of the Minnesota Legislature, taxes were raised on the wealthiest Minnesotans, and tobacco taxes were increased.

Walker’s tax plan reduced the highest rate for the wealthiest Wisconsinites from 7.75 to 7.65 percent and brought slight relief to all income levels. Dayton’s plan created a higher rate of 9.850 percent for the top 2 percent of Minnesota’s wealthiest. Dayton’s plan increased tax credits for renters – the opposite of Wisconsin, where those tax credits were cut. Dayton also signed a $508 million tax cut in 2014, of which $232 million was aimed at the middle class and $232 million …

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Will we allow Downtown to change, grow and evolve?
Will we allow Downtown to change, grow and evolve? (Photo: Bobby Tanzilo)

Invest in Milwaukee's future

My column in this space and in the Feb. 23 edition of our magazine generated an inordinate amount of reader feedback.

The column was headlined, "Let's get out of our own way." The essence of the message was that downtown Milwaukee stands at a generational crossroads, with several catalytic projects hanging in the balance, including a new arena, a streetcar system, the Couture office tower, a Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Inc. tower and maybe even a 50-story Johnson Controls Inc. headquarters. However, each time a project is proposed to propel the city forward, someone or something seems to pop up and attempts to stop it.

Judging from the feedback we received, many readers feel the same way.

Bob Monnat, partner and chief operating officer of Milwaukee-based Mandel Group Inc., said, "Steve Jagler correctly points out that Milwaukee could very well be on the cusp of greatness – if only we’d let it happen. Our parochial nature – after all over 70 percent of residents have lived here their entire lives – contributes to an attitude skewed against change of most kinds. The fear seems to be based in the belief that 'change' in Milwaukee will cause us to lose those special qualities that we have all come to appreciate. The truth couldn’t be further from this 'no change' attitude. Milwaukee has curated – perfected – every way to say 'no' to nearly any creative proposal brought forth by either the public or private sector. Yes, public funds should be thoughtfully invested, not thrown about, but at some point we have to have the commitment to view long-term investments as such, rather than simply characterizing them as expenditures."

Consultant and BizTimes columnist Christine McMahon said, "Your article, 'Let’s get out of our own way,' captures so eloquently and succinctly the prevailing mindset in Milwaukee. Thank goodness our forefathers had vision. They saw the lakefront as a place where people could gather and create community. Because of …

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Will Milwaukee get a streetcar?
Will Milwaukee get a streetcar?

These political decisions will have major consequences

If it seems like so many public policy decisions are hanging fire in Wisconsin these days, it’s only because they are.

And so many of these loose ends seem to be intertwined and interdependent.

Let’s start with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Will he run for president? By hiring a national campaign consultant, making frequent trips to states such as Iowa and Florida and jetting around to meet with wealthy donors, it sure looks that way. And if he does run for president, will he resign as governor?

Before we get to that decision, will Walker approve the proposed Kenosha casino? It stands to reason that his decision there will be filtered through his presidential campaign lens. His decision on the casino must be made by Feb. 19. Walker has said he wants no net gain in gambling in Wisconsin. Yet, conservative talk radio noise is chiding him to approve the Kenosha project and the jobs it would create.

Meanwhile, which Downtown site will the Milwaukee Bucks select as their preferred venue for a new arena? Once that decision is announced, how will the public financing for the new arena be generated? Again, will Walker be willing to support that financing?

Will the City of Milwaukee get permission to develop its proposed downtown streetcar system? As opponents scramble to gain enough signatures to force a referendum on the proposal, sources have told me that some key out-state Republican legislators are questioning why Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett needs public financing for the new arena while at the same time he wants to commit public financing for the streetcar system. Meanwhile, critics among the Milwaukee African American community contend that the streetcar system will not serve the inner city.

But wait. If the arena becomes the priority at the expense of the streetcar, then that could endanger the feasibility of the Couture, the $122 million, 44-story apartment building proposed for Milwaukee’s lakefront. The Barrett administration has intertwined the streetcar…

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The Common Council will vote on the Milwaukee streetcar in January.
The Common Council will vote on the Milwaukee streetcar in January.

Cincinnati's familiar streetcar saga

As the legal slog to develop a new streetcar system in Downtown Milwaukee continues to play out in court, in City Hall and at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, proponents and opponents alike would do well to keep an eye on Cincinnati.

"More than any project in decades, the streetcar kerfuffle has fueled unending drama and controversy: a symbol of progress for proponents and of profligate spending for detractors."

That quote did not come from Milwaukee, although it would certainly apply. It came from a blog written by Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld earlier this year. Sittenfeld was referring a seven-year debate over a proposed $133 million streetcar system in downtown Cincinnati.

I’ll let Sittenfeld take the Cincinnati story from there…

"The saga began when the mayor and city council set the 3.6-mile project in motion, only to have a right-wing anti-tax group gather signatures for a ballot measure to stop the streetcar from being built.

"Voters rejected the measure; the streetcar survived. Next, then-newly elected Gov. John Kasich yanked $52 million of previously committed state funding from the project, and significantly altered the streetcar's route and viability.

"The following year found the same anti-tax group putting yet another measure on the ballot to halt the streetcar – only to have citizens again vote, albeit by a narrow margin, for the project to go forward. The impasse continued ... and continued ... and continued. Then, in November of 2013, a new mayor was elected in a campaign centered around cancelling the streetcar."

However, at that point, construction of the streetcar system was well underway.

"The final fate of the project came to a head just before Christmas of 2013, facing a do-or-die funding deadline from the federal government. In soap opera-like fashion, only hours before the deadline, the project survived with just enough votes to overcome a mayoral veto," Sittenfeld said.

"Three Council members – myself …

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