Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

Business leaders should know real cost of arena

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Waukesha Freeman 5/15/14 Page A5 Opinion
Business leaders should know real cost of arena

Milwaukee Bucks not worth political suicide

A recent Milwaukee Business Journal article quotes members of the Waukesha County Business Alliance who are enamored with the idea of building a Taj Mahal for the Milwaukee Bucks. These business leaders also support funding Milwaukee’s cultural attractions, as called for in a report by the Public Policy Forum.

The Business Journal said all 12 business leaders were unanimous in their support for the new stadium and funding the cultural attractions in Milwaukee. “The pitch needs to change from supporting a new arena and the Milwaukee Bucks to fortifying the community and the local economy,” the executives told the Business Journal.

Among those gathered to speak in favor of taxpayer support for the arena and Milwaukee’s cultural institutions was former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow, a former state senator from Pewaukee who should know better. When asked if a politician would support whatever scheme they come up with, Farrow replied, “You need to find an exception … a profile in courage.”

Let’s point out the obvious. If the businessmen interviewed by the Business Journal want to support Milwaukee County’s cultural institutions, many of them charitable private organizations, they should pull out their checkbooks. Every organization in the Public Policy Forum report will gladly take their money. The business executives can even get their names listed in the event guides handed out at every show, along with a nice tax deduction.

But if they want Waukesha taxpayers to pay for Milwaukee’s art organizations and fund a new arena for millionaire basketball players playing for billionaire owners (Democrats!) then maybe they should talk to Farrow again.

Farrow can tell the business leaders the story about how the law creating the stadium district to build Miller Park for the Milwaukee Brewers passed late at night. She can tell them about the “profile in courage” that was her colleague, Sen. George Petak, who cast the deciding vote. Farrow can also say why Racine County was included in the district, making Petak’s vote problematic.

Most of us will remember how Petak was recalled for his vote. The Democrats, only one seat away from a majority at the time, took advantage of the Miller Park vote and drove Petak from office.

The Petak recall was the beginning of the modern recall election era, and Wisconsin’s politics are worse for it. Farrow and her colleagues who demanded Racine County be included in the Miller Park tax district did far more damage than the 0.1 percent sales tax increase.

We might add it was easy for Farrow to cast her vote for a stadium tax back then. She was in a safe seat and unlikely to be targeted by the Democrats for a recall. Petak’s three votes, two opposed and the deciding one in favor, raised his profile in a district that had been taken from the Democrats just a couple of years prior. While there was almost no chance of Farrow getting recalled, the same could not be said for Petak.

Recalls are a lot more common now. It’s quite likely that there will be recalls for any and all Waukesha County politicians who dare to support public subsidies for a new professional basketball arena, let alone Milwaukee’s cultural attractions.

Before any of those business leaders start trying to convince Waukesha’s politicians to commit political suicide, they should stop listening to Farrow talking about courage. Waukesha’s business leaders would be better off listening to their customer base, the voters of Waukesha County, instead.

*** I have written in this space that it is a shame that Waukesha does not celebrate its history nearly enough. We’re a city with a unique and interesting history but so much of it is hidden or gone.

When the opportunity presents itself for us to explore our history, we have to seize the day. Or even a weekend.

The Waukesha Preservation Alliance is celebrating Waukesha’s history this weekend with their annual Historic Preservation Days events. Take advantage of the tours of the old homes and historic landmarks of our city. See the Silurian Springhouse or visit the Waukesha County Museum at a reduced rate. Visitwww.waukeshapreservation.org for more details.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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