Sunday, October 19, 2014

Best American Riverfront: Milwaukee

Vote for Best American Riverfront

The RiverWalk in Milwaukee extends along the Milwaukee River from Riverwest all the way to the lakefront. Part of the revitalization of downtown, the area is home to some of the city's best outdoor dining at the restaurants and breweries that line either side of the river. The RiverSculpture! outdoor art gallery along the RiverWalk features a collection of temporary and permanent installations from national, regional and local sculptors.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Weekend Reading

Paul Ryan Declares War Against Math
The Remarkable Impact Of The Deep Tunnel
Corporate Deadbeats: How Companies Get Rich Off Taxes
Return Of The Bums On Welfare
Skill Gaps, Skill Shortages, And Skill Mismatches: Evidence For The U.S.
Rep. Paul Ryan's Whopper About Competitive Districts
Why Public Investment Really Is A Free Lunch
Unlike Walmart, Costco Has No Plans To Cut Employee Health Benefits
The Koch Brothers' War On Transit
Wisconsin Supreme Court Vs John Doe

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Get Your Jobs Here!

'Hiring event' looks to fill 1,000 job openings at 75 companies.

Which would fill 1.4% of Walker's dubious claim of 70,000 job openings in Wisconsin.

Hopefully the participating companies are ready to pay a living-wage to attract workers to the open positions. 

Welding Job Fair Fails To Spark Interest 
There is such a skills mismatch. Some Wisconsin companies just can't find welders. MATC was nice enough to organize a job fair to facilitate those looking for work connecting with the companies that supposedly need them. Too bad the companies, crying about Wisconsin not having skilled workers to fill positions, also seem to not have the time to show up.
If companies are unwilling to pay an honest-day's-pay, they can't realistically expect someone to do an honest-day's-work.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fact-checking The First Debate

The Journal Sentinel summarized the first debate between Mary Burke and Scott Walker in, Mary Burke pounces on Scott Walker's comments on state's 'work problem'.

"We don't have a jobs problem in this state. We have a work problem," Walker said during a discussion about raising the minimum wage.

During an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker explained that he is seeking to boost workers in two areas. First, he pointed to employers who need trained workers for higher-skilled jobs like welding. 
"We have jobs, we don't just have enough people with the skill sets to fill those jobs," he said. 
Walker also said he wants to help others acquire the basic skills needed to hold down any job. Walker has proposed requiring drug tests for working-age recipients of public benefits.
This is yet another of the many Republican talking-points that continue to live on even though there isn't a shred of evidence supporting it. In writing about the job training myth, Marc Levine detailed, "As Gordon Lafer, one of the country's foremost researchers on job training, puts it: "Whatever the problem, it seems job training is the answer. The only trouble is, it doesn't work, and the government knows it. . . . Indeed, in studying more than 40 years of job training policy, I have not seen one program that, on average, enabled its participants to earn their way out of poverty."

As I previously wrote in Myth Busting: Job Training, "Most of the new jobs being created require an associate's degree or less. 85 percent of the population in the U.S. have at least a high school degree. Over 27 percent have a bachelor's. The percentage of high school and college graduates has increased since 2000. We have neither an unskilled nor an uneducated workforce. Education as a corrective to the employment problem seems minimally significant." The idea that there are not enough Wisconsin citizens with the needed-skills is ludicrous.

As Catherine Rampell, of The New York Times, reported, "What’s especially odd about these survey responses is that if employers are having trouble finding qualified workers, they should be bidding up wages to attract the few qualified workers who are out there. But that’s not what the data show."

There is no training or skills crisis. We have a class warfare and living-wage crisis.

The Journal falls down, again, and fails to correct these falsities. Instead of practicing journalism and helping the reader to see the truth between competing narratives, they just spread the taking-points for Republicans.

They then go on to insinuate that Mary Burke is a meanie, "For their part, Republicans noted after the debate that Burke appeared ungracious when the candidates were asked to name something that they admired in the other." [This "meanie" issue is actually about a quarter of the entire article.]

I don't admire anything about Scott Walker either. He's a self-absorbed, closed-minded, partisan, hack. No matter where he has gone, controversy and deficits have followed. Does this make me ungracious? Oh well. The simple fact that one is in a debate doesn't also mean that person has earned respect. And, in dissecting the career of Scott Walker, it is awfully difficult to find something to hang your hat on. In preparing for the debate, was Mary Burke supposed to focus on what would make Scott Walker look his best?

Hopefully Wisconsin can move toward a debate of ideas and facts rather than boogeymen and mythology.

For Further Reading:
The Skills Crisis & Job Training
Skills Shortage Sham
For Scott Walker, Jobs Service Is Not Job Number One
Melissa Harris-Perry Takes Scott Walker To Task For Dishonest Ad On Reproductive Rights

Whatever It Takes To Save American Lives, Except...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Corporate Profits and Taxes

The Lt. Governor Nobody Wanted

The Lt. Governor Nobody Wanted [excerpt]
When the results of the 2010 Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor came in, most GOP insiders were shocked at the results. Few expected Rebecca Kleefisch to win. The smart money was on Brett Davis, who was backed by much of the Republican establishment, including members of Scott Walker’s inner circle. But Kleefisch not only won, she crushed Davis, with 46 percent of the vote to his 26 percent; three other candidates split the rest of the vote. 
That left Walker with a problem he didn’t want. His top aide Keith Gilkes had declared that “we are not touching anything to do with Kleefisch,” calling her “radioactive,” in emails to then-Milwaukee County Executive Walker’s staff members (included in documents released from the John Doe investigation of Walker). Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch dismissed Kleefisch as “fluff” and after she skipped one political forum, wrote “I hope she keeps missing them. And topples over on her high heels.” Said another Walker staffer, “I cannot see how anyone can take this woman seriously.” 
One Republican who worked on the Kleefisch campaign described her as a very weak candidate who was “not very smart… she would try to memorize facts.” 
Yet this is the person just a heartbeat away from the governor. Walker, who wants to run for president, has refused to promise he’d finish a four-term for governor, should he win reelection, so it’s possible Kleefisch could one day be called on to succeed him.
For Further Reading:
Fisching For Answers
Give Reality Back To Taxpayers

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Blasts From The (Deceptive) Past: Scott Walker Edition

Governor Scott Walker Caught In Political Plagiarism
So confusing was the dog and pony show Walker created to take credit for someone else’s work, the media actually found themselves confused. Was Walker announcing 125 jobs in addition to the 125 the media knew the Doyle Administration had already created?
Scott Walker, college drop-out or kicked-out?
I wish I could say definitely why he never graduated – it is a closely guarded secret. I believe the general line of thinking – that Scott Walker was caught cheating.
Scott Walker’s History Exposes a Dark, Illegal Past Behind The Choir Boy Face
Walker attended Marquette from 1986 to 1990, but never attained a degree. His sophomore year, Walker ran for president of the Associated Students of Marquette University (ASMU, the former title for Marquette Student Government). He was accused of violating campaign guidelines on multiple occasions. 
The Tribune reported then that he was found guilty of illegal campaigning two weeks before his candidacy became official. Later, a Walker campaign worker was seen placing brochures under doors at the YMCA. Door-to-door campaigning was strictly prohibited.

Walker initially denied this but later admitted to the violation, which resulted in lost campaign privileges at the YMCA.
Walker Campaign's “Wisconsin Comeback” plagiarizes Gov. Brownback's popular phony Kansas Comeback!!!
Scott Walker plagiarized Gov. Sam Brownback's Kansas Comeback campaign.
For Further Reading:
Mary Burke Plagiarism "Scandal" Is Total Bunk

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Most Segregated and Polarized Place in America

Milwaukee: The Most Segregated and Polarized Place in America
The most politically polarized place in the U.S. might not be in Washington, D.C., or the halls of Congress, but in Milwaukee. It’s already the most segregated city in the country in terms of race and poverty -- more than Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit or Los Angeles. Now, it’s become one of the most politically divided places as well.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Walker Getting Desperate

It's understandable why the Walker campaign is grasping at straws and manufacturing gotcha moments. But why is the media running with it? (As usual, Journal Sentinel, I'm looking at you.)

Of course I'm referring to the latest dust-up - Wisconsin Republicans complaining because Mary Burke's job growth plan is similar/identical to other Democrats' plans.

If we dig into the Scott Walker playbook we'll see that major parts of it were written by ALEC, the Koch brothers, the Heritage Foundations, etc. And, similar language and prescriptions were used by numerous Republicans in the State and around the country.

The fact that Mary Burke wants the same things as other Democrats ... what is so strange/nefarious about that? Best practices that grow jobs in one part of the State or the country usually will have the same results elsewhere.

The Walker campaign is obviously feeling the pressure from Mary Burke. Walker's desperation and lack of any positive accomplishments of his own are leading his campaign to invent scandals.

The only real scandals are the broken promises of Scott Walker and how truly horrible he has been for Wisconsin.

For Further Reading:
Wisconsin's private-sector job growth ranks 33rd in U.S., quarterly report shows

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wisconsin Voter Suppression

Walker says ID law won't disenfranchise voters
To vote under the law, people must show poll workers their driver's licenses, state ID cards, passports, limited types of student IDs, military IDs, naturalization certificates or IDs issued by a tribe based in Wisconsin.
There the Republicans go again ... solving problems that aren't there.

There is no voter identification/fraud issue in America. There has only been a handful of hucksters across the country who've perpetrated voting illegalities over the past decade. That's millions of votes with only a few bad apples. (And the majority of those bad apples were actually voting Republican.)

The demographics of the country are turning to the Democrats. The Republican "ideas" just aren't appealing to many voters. The only way the Republicans can win elections is through gerrymandering and voter suppression (one must have an ID, even if you've been voting at the same location for decades).

Even more curious, how many jobs does Scott Walker believe this policy will create? 

For a guy who isn't even going to create half of the jobs he promised, focusing on an issue that has nothing to do with job creation seems odd. 

But when your interest is not for the State or its citizens (or for democracy), when all the Republicans actually care about is winning elections and maintaining power, their policies are simply a means to an end for outcomes in their favor.

Hence, the Walker administration has loosened regulations on business, funneled public dollars to corporate buddies, weakened Labor, reduced education spending, increased regulations on the poor, and created obstructions for voters. Using public office to further personal political aspirations and to enrich dutiful donors. Crony capitalism at its finest. Great for Republican's moneyed-friends, but terrible for citizens.

With such low voter-turnout in so many of our elections (is this the miracle democracy we keep trying to spread across the globe?), we should be trying to encourage more participation, not less. 

Gov. Scott Walker Wants Drug Testing For Public Aid Recipients

Gov. Scott Walker wants drug testing for public aid recipients
Few details were included on the new proposals, but advocates for the needy said the drug testing proposal for jobless and food stamp benefits would violate federal law — a complication that killed a similar proposal promoted by Republican lawmakers in 2011. Walker himself acknowledged the potential for conflict but said the move was still right for the state.
Since Scott Walker wants all those receiving public aid to be drug tested, I assume we will be testing the Brewers, the Bucks, Harley Davidson, the developers whom have received public aid for their private construction projects, and the numerous other private entities awarded public aid?

Or (in typical Republican fashion) does this only apply to the poor?

Give Taxpayers Better Deal On Milwaukee Bucks Arena

Give taxpayers a better deal on Milwaukee Bucks arena
To break the logjam, here's a hybrid solution that does not require tax gimmicks or out-sized estimates of the public benefits of having a sports franchise: Let taxpayers be investors with a chance to gain, rather than be donors with a guaranteed financial loss. Offer them the opportunity to earn the same rate of return on their tax dollars as the private investors earn on their investment as the value of the franchise rises over time. Their share of the gains could easily be remitted back to the taxing authority and used for needed public purposes and/or tax cuts. 
The current NBA business model separates the franchise investment from the arena investment. The franchise is an appreciating asset, as demonstrated by the recent huge increases in franchise sale prices. In contrast, the arena is a depreciating fixed asset, as demonstrated by the claimed worthlessness of the BMO Harris Bradley Center after only 26 years. Under the taxpayer-as-investor proposal, the taxpayers would share in any future capital gains in proportion to their investment in the total value of the enterprise.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Labor's Fair Share

On Labor Day, What About Labor’s Fair Share?
  • According to the Economic Policy Institute, productivity went up about 25 percent from 2000 to 2012. How much did compensation increase? Only about 7 percent. 
  • From 1979 to 2010 the top 1 percent of households saw their after-tax income grow by about 202 percent.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Scott Walker Roundup

Scott Walker Does About-Face On Outsourcing As Campaign Issue
Scott Walker Aide Archer Lands New State Job With Big Raise
Companies That Outsourced Jobs Donated Primarily To Walker Campaign
WEDC Award Recipients Outsources Wisconsin Jobs To Foreign Countries
Scott Walker Received Money From Companies That Outsource Jobs
Is Walker Guilty - Or The Law Meaningless?
The Unelectable Whiteness Of Scott Walker
Lessons For Other States From Kansas' Massive Tax Cuts
The Failure Of State Economic Development Agencies
Wisconsin and Wyoming Tally Fiscal Cost of Rejecting Health Reform’s Medicaid Expansion

Holiday Reading

Truths & Myths About The Rise Of Part-Time Jobs
What Science Says About Marijuana
The Health Benefits Of Trees
Corporations Used To Pay Almost One-Third Of Federal Taxes. Now It's One-Tenth.

Charts To Email Your Right-Wing Brother In-Law

How Your City's Public Transit Stacks Up
State's Job Growth Defies Predictions After Tax Increases

Friday, August 22, 2014

Walker Wanted Funds Sent To Wisconsin Club For Growth

Walker wanted funds sent to Wisconsin Club for Growth
Gov. Scott Walker encouraged outside groups and individuals to funnel millions of dollars into Wisconsin Club for Growth — a pro-Walker group directed by his campaign adviser — during the recall elections in 2011 and 2012, according to court documents unsealed on Friday.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wisconsin Employment Doldrums

From Econobrowser, "Following up on last Thursday’s post, here is a depiction of how Wisconsin and Kansas — ALEC darlings — fare against Minnesota and California." [source]

Figure 1: Log nonfarm payroll employment for Wisconsin (red), Minnesota (blue), California (teal), Kansas (green) and the US (black), all seasonally adjusted, 2011M01=0. Vertical dashed line at beginning of terms for indicated governors. Source: BLS, and author’s calculations.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jack White, Eagles Ballroom, Milwaukee, July 21, 2014

"White's handpicking venues for this tour, and geeked out over the age of the Eagles Ballroom in a brief moment of banter, and dedicated "Missing Pieces" to the Cactus Club and other small venues he played in Milwaukee before hitting the big time." [source]

Friday, July 11, 2014

Job Piracy

“It’s a zero-sum game,” Nathan Jensen, a political science professor formerly at Washington University in St. Louis who recently started teaching at George Washington University, said during a recent conference held by the Kauffman Foundation. 
Simply shifting companies from one state to the next does nothing, at least not right away, to create new openings for the millions of still unemployed Americans, Jensen added while presenting some of his latest economic development research. Nevertheless, nearly every municipality across the country offers some type of tax incentives to encourage existing companies to relocate, costing taxpayers around $70 billion annually. 
Often, the hope is that those incentives will not only prompt employers to bring their existing jobs to this state or that city, but that it will also accelerate the company’s future growth and generate additional jobs for residents down the road. [source]
Ending Job Piracy, Building Regional Prosperity
Local job piracy – the use of subsidies to attract businesses from nearby communities in the same metro area – generates heavy costs for regions in terms of both lost tax revenues and externalities associated with sprawl while failing to create new jobs. But anti-piracy agreements used by the Denver, Colorado and Dayton, Ohio regions have cultivated an economic development ethos that is focused on shared regional prosperity.
Evaluating Firm-Specific Location Decisions
The use of financial incentives to attract and retain companies has become one of the most common economic development strategies of U.S. states and municipalities. Despite the widespread debate on the effectiveness of these programs, few systematic academic studies have examined how incentives affect job creation and local economic development. The result is that policymakers often lack objective data from which to draw conclusions about the benefits of these programs...
... Incentives recipients are statistically not more likely to generate new jobs than similar firms not receiving incentives.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Health Care Scandal Hype

Veterans and Zombies: The Hype Behind the Health Care Scandal

So here’s what you need to know: It’s still true that Veterans Affairs provides excellent care, at low cost. Those waiting lists arise partly because so many veterans want care, but Congress has provided neither clear guidelines on who is entitled to coverage, nor sufficient resources to cover all applicants. And, yes, some officials appear to have responded to incentives to reduce waiting times by falsifying data. 
Yet, on average, veterans don’t appear to wait longer for care than other Americans. And does anyone doubt that many Americans have died while waiting for approval from private insurers? 
A scandal is a scandal, and wrongdoing must be punished. But beware of people trying to use the veterans’ care scandal to derail health reform. 
And here’s the thing: Health reform is working. Too many Americans still lack good insurance, and hence lack access to health care and protection from high medical costs — but not as many as last year, and next year should be better still. Health costs are still far too high, but their growth has slowed dramatically. We’re moving in the right direction, and we shouldn’t let the zombies get in our way.
For Further Reading:
The Best Care Anywhere

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Scott Walker's Press Secretary

Whether it's a Mayor, a Governor, or a President, their policies can only have so much of an impact on the economy. Thus, credit and/or blame is proportional to the amount of policies he/she has been able to pass and the intensity of those policies. Scott Walker has exacted numerous legislative changes and they have been radical in nature. 

The Journal Sentinel opines:
Wisconsin gained a few jobs last year — very few — and still trails the U.S. average for job growth, as it has for three years, nearly the entire term of Gov. Scott Walker. 
So, it has to be Walker's fault, right? 
Sorry, but A+B doesn't equal C — not in this case. 
The state's economy is vastly more complicated than such a simplistic and politically expedient explanation.
Where was such reasoned caution when the Journal Sentinel was campaigning for Scott Walker?

He was Wisconsin's savior with so many game-changing ideas. [For some reason, more deregulation and tax cuts were going to save us ... again.]

Now ... he's just one man and he can only do so much. So give him a break.

They then pull out the classic, "Well, they do it too" argument:
How do the political pundits on either side explain the fact that Wisconsin has consistently trailed the national average for a decade — during both Republican and Democratic administrations?
Too bad this claim is false.

Wisconsin's rank among the states in year-over-year employment change was 18th in 2003, in 2013 it was 41st. As the report Gauging Employment Growth In Wisconsin details:
As recently as 2010, and during four of the previous nine years (September 2002‐2010), Wisconsin’s employment growth rate exceeded the national figure.
The Journal then philosophizes, "We've long believed that the real reason for the state's sluggish job growth has a lot to do with Wisconsin's economic mix."

But wasn't Scott Walker opening Wisconsin for business? If you campaign guaranteeing business and jobs, don't your policies have to take some of the blame when the economy actually performs worse than it otherwise was performing?

The Journal closes, "We see no evidence that Walker's policies have made more than a marginal difference, for better or worse, for Wisconsin's economy."

So, the new governor turns down $800 million in Federal rail subsidies, he kills millions more by pushing Talgo (a train builder) out of Wisconsin, he guts collective bargaining, he cuts school funding, and he gives away millions more in tax breaks to his cronies. Yet, according to the Journal, none of this has anything to do with the fact that Wisconsin is economically performing worse than nearly every other state?

The misinformation campaign of Wisconsin's largest newspaper continues.

For Further Reading:
Prosecutors: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Part Of 'Criminal Scheme'
Gov. Scott Walker’s Campaign Violations

Paul Krugman Digs Slyvan Esso

Friday Night Music: Sylvan Esso

For Further Reading:
Nick Sanborn making music with friends

The Point Is I'm Here, They're Queer And Let's Talk About Something Else

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014

U.S. Corporate Tax Avoidance

From The Transcript:
Avoiding taxes has become a hallmark of America’s business icons; Apple, Google, GE, and many more of the Fortune 500. The nation’s largest corporations are sitting on more than $2 trillion in cash while revenue from corporate income taxes have plummeted from just below 40 percent in 1943 to just below 10 percent in 2012. Government and big business have colluded to create what’s tantamount to an “unlimited IRA” for corporations. 
That’s not my term, although I wish I had thought of it, because it explains so much about what’s gone wrong in a country where some 20 million workers who would like a full-time job still can’t get one. Yet the upper one percent of the population takes home a staggering 22.5 percent of America’s income while their effective federal income tax rate has dropped.

The News

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Do You Live Near More Bars, Or More Grocery Stores?

Do You Live Near More Bars, Or More Grocery Stores?
This design highlights how serious Wisconsin is about its drinking. Based on Google Places, the state has 2.7 times as many bars as grocery stores, even though grocery stores outnumber bars by 13 percent nationwide.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Milwaukee's Boondoggle Twofer

It isn't enough for the self-interested developers and their boosters to try and blackmail the public for a basketball stadium, now they also want a publicly-funded convention center expansion.

I won't rehash how stadiums are money losers and not economic catalysts. (See 'For Further Reading' at the end for more on that.)

Here we'll get into how convention centers are money losers and not economic catalysts.

A consultant, for the Wisconsin Center District (booster for the Bradley Center and operator of the Wisconsin Center), recently opined Best to expand convention center in tandem with a new arena. Yes, Milwaukee, for the low price of hundreds of millions you can have two boondoggles instead of just one.The consultants are HVS, out of Chicago. Another "impact assessment" song-and-dance, erroneously purporting to quantify these boondoggles.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Milwaukee Business Journal have been more than compliant lapdogs shoveling this debunked drivel to readers day in and day out. Hardly a day goes by without one of these media outlets boasting about the jobs, economic impact, and general boom that will be caused by both/either of these projects.

Rich Kirchen, at the Milwaukee Business Journal, trotted out the usual cast of boosters in 'NO': Buck sale sets off new debate. In the article, Barry Mandel, real estate developer and major corporate welfare recipient, talks of how Milwaukee will fall into mediocrity without these projects. You shouldn't find it odd that he wants the public to fund this, he has received millions for his projects in the past, and the new projects are adjacent to other properties he owns. This is typical of the boosters - its about self-interest and what they can get out of the public coffers. The job talk and inflated impacts are just the lipstick on the pig.

The article said, "This is a community that struggled mightily to agree on a plan to fund Miller Park for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1990s." Actually, citizens voted against Miller Park, repeatedly. State Senator George Petak, of Racine, changed a vote in the middle of the night, overturning the will of the people and pushing forward the construction of Miller Park.

It continues, "Given the community's ambivalence at best about public funds for a new arena...," casting a negative light as if Milwaukee is against everything just for the sake of being against it. But, we've actually voted repeatedly for a tax to fund the Park system. Yet, elected officials have never acted upon these wishes of their constituents.

Public goods (like parks) are non-starters, yet private playgrounds should have millions in public dollars lavished upon them.

Many of the biggest corporate welfare recipients are also some of the biggest finger-pointers. They feel taxpayers should fund even more of their speculation and projects. They have the audacity to criticize the City for not doing enough. Yet, as Mayor Barrett suggested, "The naysayers are the same developers seeking taxpayer money for their own projects." What a sad situation we're in - corporate welfare moochers trying to shame the City into wasting taxpayer money on their speculative ventures. Socialism is bad, unless its socialism for the rich.

The Business Journal goes on to compare Milwaukee with Indianapolis and Cincinnati. They've built new stadiums and conventions centers, they're supposedly booming (though this isn't quantified), ergo this is the formula for success. The articles talks of major hotel growth in these cities due to these projects. Yet, Milwaukee has seen hotel growth already without a new basketball arena or convention center expansion. Brady Street, the Third Ward, Walker's Point, and Bay View - to name just a few Milwaukee neighborhoods - have been growing steadily without the expansion of a convention center or the addition of a new basketball arena.

A primary thing to keep in mind with these initiatives - they do not produce good jobs. Our recovery has already been plagued by low-wage jobs. More ticket-takers, ushers, vendors, janitors, etc. are not going to be a catalyst for the City.

Convention center expansion is often talked of as some sort of arms race - "Milwaukee is falling behind. Everyone else is expanding. We must expand, too." But, as experience has shown, the number of conventions and convention-goers has been falling the past few decades. With faltering demand already in place, increased supply drives the value down for everyone. A classic case of a race to the bottom. Maybe it's a good thing Milwaukee hasn't wasted hundreds of millions on pointless convention center expansion. If not for the Wisconsin Center, just think of the other uses for the prime real estate which the Wisconsin Center occupies.

From Governing magazine's The Great Convention Center Bailout:
“A lot of the over-building is a result of local business leaders who see the centers as a bulwark against declining property values in cities,” he [Heywood Sanders, professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio] says. Throw in consultants who often play up the impact of a convention center, says Sanders, and the result is an overbuilt market.
Maybe this money would be better spent bringing the regions public transit infrastructure up to 21st-century standards. As the article Dim light at the end of the tunnel states:
Unlike in virtually all other large U.S. cities, leaders here have balked for two decades at building any form of regional rail transit... In an era of expensive gas and pressures to reduce carbon footprints, it takes some magical thinking to believe that Milwaukee can remain economically competitive as one of the nation’s only large cities without such infrastructure...Moreover, even in fiscally strapped Milwaukee, we’ve found a way to spend billions in the past decade on a baseball stadium and a convention center, mega-projects that nearly all economists agree contribute precious little to regional economic growth... Businesses increasingly will locate in transit-friendly regions that offer the efficient and economical flow of people, goods and services. A Milwaukee without rail transit runs the risk of becoming economically obsolete, a city whose leaders failed to invest in its economic future.
The convention center opened in 1998 at a cost of $175 million. The Milwaukee Theater (another Wisconsin Center District property) had a $40 million remodel. Not to mention Miller Park, which Bruce Murphy calls our Billion-dollar Baby. Within the past 15 years we've spent somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion dollars on projects, according to the boosters logic, shouldn't we already be experiencing our job-growth renaissance?

HVS speculates an expanded convention center would generate $182 million per year economic impact and 1,800 permanent jobs in the Milwaukee area. With a cost of $200 million for the expansion, the cost per job would be $111,111. A ridiculously high per-job cost for primarily low-wage jobs. [An earlier Business Journal article reported on an HVS impact study showing all of the Wisconsin Center District properties have an $355 million impact supporting 4,000 jobs. $126 million is new spending, creating 1,400 jobs. By which they are implying without their facilities $126 million in spending and 1,400 jobs would not exist. Based on the $175 million cost for the convention center and the $40 million remodeling of the theater, this equates to a $153,571 per job cost.]

Though the Wisconsin Center District and HVS are so sure of the importance and impact of the facilities in question, their impact studies are flawed and biased. Upon closer look at what they feel the average spending per visitor is, the ratio of out-of-town attendees, their usage of spending multipliers, and how they arrived at all of those numbers, good impact-assessment analysts have laughed at their dubious numbers. The boosters claim pie-in-the-sky while concealing the true details.

Why doesn't the Wisconsin Center open its books? Publish the number of conventions held and the number of convention-goers, show us the competition and their numbers, let us see the profit (or loss), and let us compare these numbers over a period of time to see if things are stable, improving or declining.

As a 2006 article by UWM professor Marc V. Levine notes:
As the leaders of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the public policy arms of corporate Milwaukee, put it: "The business community's role is to provide economic growth and jobs." By that criterion, Milwaukee's business leaders have colossally failed this community since the city has had nearly the worst job growth record among big U.S. cities for two decades. Moreover, corporate Milwaukee has exerted a pernicious influence on local economic development policy. Notwithstanding business leadership's rhetoric about "market-driven" economic development, corporate Milwaukee has continually demanded public subsidies and incentives, all justified in the interests of job growth. Yet, since 1990, the end result of providing millions of dollars in business incentives and development subsidies has been a 10% net job loss in Milwaukee. In that vein, consider Milwaukee's signature initiatives over the past decade: Miller Park, the Midwest Airlines convention center, the Grand Avenue mall make-over and the "Initiative for a Competitive Milwaukee."All were heavily promoted by the MMAC and GMC, which lobbied for massive public spending on these projects chiefly on the grounds that they would be prodigious job generators. Well, the results are in - and Milwaukee's employment decline over the past decade speaks volumes on the job-generating efficacy of the business community's pet projects.
As Steven Malanga reports, in The Convention Center Shell Game, "A vast expansion of Chicago’s McCormick Place, costing $1 billion in the mid-1990s, didn’t prevent a drop in that city’s share of major conventions... Another word of warning: city-commissioned studies almost always wind up recommending convention centers—meaning that the industry of consultants who churn out such studies has a pretty lousy track record, considering the long list of underperforming centers around the country."

Amanda Erickson of The Atlantic, in Is It Time to Stop Building Convention Centers?, wrote:
McCormick Place's 2.2 million square feet host the greatest fraction of top tradeshows in the country. At its peak, in 1996, it hosted 30 large-scale events (attended by some 1.1 million people). That's more events than are hosted in Las Vegas, New York, or Atlanta. 
And as a center, it has a lot of selling points. For one, Chicago is well-located. It's a major city in the center of the country. It's easily accessible by air (another national center of conventions, Atlanta, shares this virtue) and there are a lot of hotels and restaurants nearby. 
Still, despite all these advantages, Chicago's been struggling to keep up. Between 2001 and 2011, the number delegates attending trade shows and meetings at McCormick place fell about 37 percent, from 1,333,906 to 828,013. Other national venues have seen a similar decline. As the Brookings Institution's Sanders writes, "major commercial centers, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and New Orleans have all seen significant recent loss in convention activity, even as they expand their convention centers." In Las Vegas and Orlando — the two up-and-comers in the convention space — recent expansions have done little to grow the number of visitors per year. 
This, in turn, leaves fewer and fewer options for second-tier cities. If Chicago is feeling the burn, what chance does Cincinnati have, or Buffalo?
Chicago is the biggest convention center city in America. If a billion-dollar investment can't prevent their slide, does anyone plausibly think a different outcome will occur in Milwaukee?

Just this past December, Mark Belko, of the Pittsburgh Gazette, described how Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center isn't living up to its high expectations.

Typically these types of projects merely realign spending. This is known as the substitution effect - where spending for one activity merely replaces spending on other previous activities. Ronald Wirtz elaborates, "While new entertainment options do likely bring in some new spending, advocates often mistake economic activity (all spending related to a sporting event or convention) with economic impact (new spending that otherwise would not have taken place)."

As Vladimir Kogan at Smart City Memphis describes, "From an economic standpoint, it seems incredibly silly and unproductive to invest half a billion dollars to simply shift economic activity from one region of the country to another. (Almost as silly and unproductive as spending hundreds of millions to move football teams from one stadium to another.) It’s much more beneficial to use scarce public dollars to invest in projects that actually grow the size of the economy, increasing productivity and overall societal well-being."

We've heard all this talk of [our government] being broke. We can't fix potholes, we can't expand rail transit, the parks can't be improved, schools need to close, workers don't deserve even a minimum wage, and pretty much any other public good or public project (except highways for the oil polluting, sprawling, road-builders) is out of the question. Yet, we have millions for Mercury Marine, Harley-Davidson, Miller Park, the Wisconsin Center, and millions more for well-to-do corporate interests and their speculative schemes.

Isn't it odd that these anti-government, free market advocates are always coming to the public with their hands out? I thought the government was supposed to just get out of the way and let these entrepreneurs create?

Oh, except for anytime these corporate players actually want to do something. Then they hire consultants, journalists and other talking-heads to sell, beg, and misinform the public about why taxpayers need to fund these private activities.

It wasn't the truth the first time they told us about the magical stadium and convention center economic impacts. It's not the truth now.

For Further Reading:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

If America is truly Number One [positive connotation implied], as so many citizens are fond of saying and displaying on their t-shirts, why do we (as a percent of our total population) throw more of our citizens in jail than any other country in the world?

I mean, if we're all so great just because of our American-ism, why are we throwing so many of our gifted and naturally-better-simply-by-being-born-in-the-U.S. citizens into prison?

We imprison more of our own citizens than Rwanda, Cuba or Russia, to name just a few. You know, those bad and backwards countries we hear talk radio gas-bags and chest-thumping politicians belittling every time a camera or microphone is put in front of their face.

That Moral Authority the U.S. uses to march around the globe, it's left the building.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Another Lost Opportunity

Demolition vs. reconstruction of Interstate 794
Tear down this freeway spur, replace it with surface streets and the results will be a better connected downtown Milwaukee, with more land for development and much lower road maintenance costs.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Are We Still Supposed To Take The Wisconsin Republican Party Seriously?

State GOP To Vote On Whether Wisconsin Should Secede From The Union
The Wisconsin Republican Party will be voting this weekend on whether it endorses the right to secede from the rest of the country and nullify any federal law, a clear departure from the legacy of Abraham Lincoln... 
It also asserts the right, "under extreme circumstances," to secede from the United States of America.

Weekend Reading

Wisconsin's Health System Ranks In Top 10 In National Report
The Privatization Backlash
Backlash Against Privatization Is Growing in States and Cities Across the US
Biggest Infrastructure Need: States
Scott Walker's Health Care Dilemma
John Doe Probe Raises Issue Of Potential Conflicts With Justices
Federal Judge Strikes Down Wisconsin's Voter ID Law
Wisconsin Voter ID Ruling Could Cost State More Than $1 Million
FOX Find Another Anti-Government Wingnut [David Clarke] To Prop Up 
Ill-Advised Sheriff [David Clarke] Who Warned Of Second American Revolution
Walker Declines To Commit To Four-Year Wisconsin Term
Corporate Tax Attacks In The States
The Most Important Economic Chart
Time To Raise The U.S. Minimum Wage
A Chart That Demands Attention
A Rough Guide To Spotting Bad Science
A Chart To Share With People Who Complain About People On Welfare

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Math and Taxes of Stadium Boondoggles

Jim Owczarski over at OnMilwaukee feels Milwaukee should "Stop whining and pay the arena freight."

He's talked to a few people about the Miller Park tax, it wasn't a big deal to them, so a new basketball arena shouldn't be a big deal for anyone else either. 

Owczarski then uses an example of buying a car to clarify his point, "People get all worked up over the idea of a tax, than the actual number itself. Let's be real. If you're buying a $30,000 car, an extra $200 or whatever it comes out to isn't a big deal in the scheme of it."

So we can see why Jim doesn't have a big problem with taxes or paying them - he doesn't understand them and he's not very good at math. If you're buying a new car in Milwaukee County, your paying a 5.6% sales and use tax on it, which is a $1,680 tax on a $30,000 car. 

Most people probably do have a difference of opinion if you're talking $200 or $1,680. To which, Jim says, "Do a better job negotiating that [the tax] out of your final [car] price if you're that upset by it." Just as we can negotiate with team owners - making them pay the majority of costs for their team. 

I find it unbelievable that in a state with such a strong labor history, prudent social investments, and an aversion to boondoggles, so many are suddenly reverse Robin Hoods, wanting the many to subsidize the few. [Yet, when calls are made for the rich to feed the hungry, employ the jobless, house the homeless, or pay more taxes, those people are labeled parasites, moochers, and communists.] Bribery is now an accepted form of negotiation. Taxpayers must fund private team owners' cost of doing business. 

Sports are a great diversion and entertainment option, but they are not economic catalysts. They typically represent less than 1 percent of a local economy. Often, much, much less.

Jim then moves forward with the Major League City argument, "If the new ownership group winds up having to sell the team back to the NBA in 2017, the people of Wisconsin will relegate their marquee city a second-class citizen on the national landscape." Even with the Brewers still here, by not having the Bucks - who haven't competed for over a decade and have had among the worst attendance among NBA teams - suddenly Milwaukee will fall off the map.

Austin, El Paso, Louisville, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Rochester, Birmingham, Hartford, Richmond, Providence, Virginia Beach, Riverside and Tucson are just a few larger U.S. cities that have no major league sports team. 25 of the states have no professional sport team. All second-class cities and states, no doubt.

Owczarski closes with a flourish of gobbledygook, "If the Brewers are left alone, Milwaukee becomes … what? San Antonio? Oklahoma City? Jacksonville? Ugh. I'm sure some would like it to become Portland, but the city won't allow for strip clubs Downtown and, frankly, we don't have an ocean about two hours away. Name every important city in this country. Professional sports are an integral part of its culture, and its economy. It is here in Milwaukee, too. I'm a taxpayer and I won't mind keeping it that way."

San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Jacksonville are all faster-growing and larger cities, Yeah, we'd hate to be like that, not to mention their warmer weather. Portland's success is due to downtown strip clubs? We may not have an ocean, but we have the two largest Great Lakes nearby (one within minutes for most citizens). See two paragraphs above for important cities without professional teams. Also, most wouldn't consider a less-than-1% economic-impact an "integral" part of the economy.  

It seems taxpayers are again hurtling toward more corporate welfare in the form of another stadium subsidy. The boosters' regurgitated arguments have been dubious, at best, and have often been proven false. There may be a place for the public in helping to finance local sport facilities or site preparation. But it's a minimal one. Taxpayers should not be footing 70%, or more, of facility cost, which has been the typical amount over the past few decades.

For Further Reading: