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Milwaukee: The Economic Engine that Powers Wisconsin

Issue of the Week

Mar. 14, 2017
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In his State of the City address, Mayor Tom Barrett correctly pointed out that Milwaukee is the economic engine of the state, sending $460 million dollars to the state, which is more than it receives from the state in all of its various state aids. Milwaukee gets about 66 cents back for every dollar it sends to Madison. This has been going on for decades and decades and decades. However, if you listen to the Republican legislators in Madison, you would think it is the exact opposite; they continue to undermine local control and damage Milwaukee.

Since these small rural communities are benefiting from Milwaukee and essentially being subsidized by Milwaukee, one would think that they would be grateful. Unfortunately, again, the opposite is true. One would think that they would take very good care of the city whose tax dollars are providing these smaller communities with a higher quality of life. Instead, they continually try to interfere in and micromanage Milwaukee with state legislation. Remember when Gov. Tommy Thompson, while in northern Wisconsin, said to a burst of applause, “Let’s stick it to Milwaukee”? Those words were not an accident; they were vote getters.

Since they have the majorities in both chambers of the legislature, due to extreme gerrymandering along with a Republican governor, they can pass almost anything they want. The Republican gerrymandering after the 2010 census was so extreme that a three-judge federal panel, with two Republican appointees and one Democratic appointee, ruled that Wisconsin’s current legislative districts are unconstitutional and must be redrawn. Despite the fact that the legislature as it is currently constituted is unconstitutional, it doesn’t seem to moderate them.

The most recent bill to interfere with local control that is now on the governor’s desk would prevent local governments from negotiating agreements with developers and contractors that are working on projects that receive taxpayer subsidies from developing project labor agreements. These agreements require various benefits for the community in the form of job training opportunities for local residents, for example, in exchange for the subsidies paid for by the taxpayers.

According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, one of the legislation’s authors, State Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), said that his legislation was designed to let the market decide essentially without the government interfering. Huh. These agreements that are struck between the local governments and the contractors are only applicable to projects that have a government subsidy, where the private markets on their own did not fund the project. One of the largest private projects of this kind is obviously the Buck’s arena.

If it were solely up to the private capital markets, the Buck’s project would not have happened. The private markets were apparently not providing adequate or affordable capital for the project to be feasible. Government ended up paying for about half the arena project. Because the government had to intervene, and only because there is a taxpayer subsidy, it was OK for the taxpayers to negotiate some community benefit in return.

This bill passed on a party line vote in both chambers. Apparently it didn’t dawn on these Republican legislators that there are market imperfections, and government intervention was required to make the project work. If it is necessary for the government to intervene for the project to move forward, why is it not OK for the government to also intervene to train some of its residents in the process? Apparently the owners of the Bucks understand the importance of such agreements and the importance of being a good civic partner with the community and have gone above and beyond with respect to their project labor agreement.


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