By Doug Hissom Special to Published May 02, 2007 at 5:23 AM

Here’s a novel approach to making sure the state’s corporate welfare that goes for job creation is actually used for job creation -- oversight. The Center on Wisconsin Strategy notes that the state spent $152.8 million on economic development programs, yet spent little time tracking what it went for.

COWS found that many states actually keep track of their money when it goes as corporate welfare, requiring mandatory disclosure of tax credits, exemptions, land, grants and other subsidies. There are also programs that require companies to return subsidy money if they don’t meet the goals it was meant for.

COWS recommends:

  • The state require companies to report all subsidies in their annual reports, including promises made regarding job creation, wages, benefits and pensions.
  • Corporations report the actual jobs created by the subsidy and the benefits paid to the workers.
  • Make the information part of the public record.
  • A streamlining of  the process. The state has 26 boards, councils, and task forces that oversee the economic development programs and there is no communication between the boards nor do they have a system to evaluate the funds that are the same for each project.

Racial Disparity Meets Racial Disparity: Getting to the foundation of the state’s racial disparity issue encountered some racial disparity of its own after a state representative fell back on racial stereotypes to make his point. State Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Hartford) asked the governor’s Commission to Reduce Racial Disparity in Wisconsin’s Criminal Justice System to look into the absence of role models and lack of education as the sources -- not more government programs.

“With 60 percent of African-American males not graduating in Wisconsin, do we need to look any further into why they are disproportionately ending up in prison?  All the newest research being done on the topic points to family structure as being the most important indicator of whether children will graduate from high school, be enrolled in college and also whether they will become incarcerated. I’m afraid the governor and his panel will overlook these underlying issues and simply throw more money at the symptoms,” Pridemore said.

His view of the issue received a terse reply from state Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee), co-chair of the commission. “The issues that Rep. Pridemore has raised are a quick take from the vantage point of Hartford, but to those of us that live with these issues daily, it’s much more difficult than a press release will answer.”

Coggs said the commission spent five hours in its first working session.

Gov. Jim Doyle created the commission in March with the charge to determine if discrimination is built into Wisconsin’s criminal justice system and develop strategies aimed at reducing racial disparities at each stage of the state’s justice system -- from arrest of new suspects to parole of convicted felons. The 24-member panel is made up mostly of private and public sector representatives from Dane and Milwaukee counties. Pridemore should be happy, however, that Terrance Ray, coordinator for Milwaukee Mayor’s Fatherhood Initiative is on the panel.

Regents to Hear Comments on East Side Melee: The undeclared war between East Side resident homeowners and their younger neighbors who rent will square off in a public setting in front of the normally staid UW System Board of Regents on May 7.

This meeting is sure to draw a crowd, from both sides of the street. And East Side Ald. Mike D’Amato is making his pitch to the homeowners to make sure they pack the room.

At stake could be students’ future at UW-Milwaukee. The Regents will be holding a hearing on proposed changes to the UW System student code to include sanctions for off-campus behavior. D’Amato is suggesting that the disciplinary code include penalties for students involved in loud noise complaints, drinking and vandalism.

“This session is for anyone who has ever had a problem with the off-campus behavior of UWM students. It is imperative that you attend so that the Regents of the UW System understand the seriousness of this problem,” writes the alderman in his invite to homeowners.

“Every autumn and spring my office, the Milwaukee Police, and other city staff spend hundreds of hours and thousands of your tax dollars in an attempt to control unruly student behavior. We cannot continue to fight this losing battle without strong assistance from UWM. With a change in UWM's disciplinary procedure we will have another tool, a major tool, that will assist us in restoring the high quality of life we all expect for the amount of money we pay in taxes.”

UWM student representatives shot back with an invite of their own -- to students.

“It is important that you make your voice heard on this issue and tell the committee that you wont stand for double-jeopardy and you want the university to stay out of your personal business,” writes UWM student government president Samantha Prahl in an e-mail sent campus-wide.

The meeting is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. May 7 in the Wisconsin Room of the UWM Union, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.

George Gives Tommy 15 minutes: Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson doesn’t get too many glowing words about his Quixotic presidential bid, but for the past week or so he’s been glowing about a missive from George Will that appeared throughout the land courtesy of The New York Times.

For Thompson, a mere mention in America’s newspaper of record would be considered a coup. Will pretty much goes over the Thompson strategy of putting all his cards in Iowa in the hopes a win or good showing will help him get more money to continue touring the country.

He calls Thompson “the Republican presidential candidate with the most impressive resume.” He also gives Thompson kudos for welfare reform and school choice.

But Will thinks Thompson can pull off “the Sturgis Factor,” something he likely dreamed up while on the cocktail circuit.

“Thompson, who rides a Milwaukee-made Harley, is a member of the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Sturgis, S.D. (population 6,260). Every August about half a million motorcyclists gather there to enjoy the pleasure of one another's company. This year's gathering (Aug. 6-12) coincides with Iowa's straw poll. It would be a mere 660-mile ride for some Iowa bikers to get from Sturgis to Ames,” Will writes, suggesting that bikers would actually leave that week-long party for politics. A long shot indeed.

Committee to Builder: “Pay Up:” Milwaukee developer Timothy J. Olson, head of Olson Management Corp. received official confirmation that he should really pay his overdue property taxes and building code violations before the city will let him put up a building on the corner of Holton Avenue and Brown Street.

Olson has 11 properties with 82 outstanding orders to take care of and has 27 building code convictions -- third highest in the city. He has paid $14,290 in fines, has $41,310 in outstanding fines as well and owes $111,939 in property taxes. State court records also list a tax lien filed against Olson this month for $50,598.05.

Last week the City Plan Commission rejected Olson’s bid for a change in zoning to put up a five-story structure that would have retail, rental and condo space because he has not paid his fees to the city and after some neighbors called him a “slumlord.”

This week, the Common Council Zoning and Neighborhood Development Committee confirmed that vote, but the committee chair, Ald. Mike D’Amato, says he hopes the project will go forward after Olson pays his taxes.

“It’s a great project,” he said. “When he calls ... tell him to pay his fines and back taxes and things would be much easier.” 

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.