Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Personal Foul – Norquist Loses Points With the Business Community

By - Jun 15th, 2001 08:27 am

The Greater Milwaukee Committee thinks it’s found a way to get more revenue for the Milwaukee Bucks. But one naysayer is Mayor John Norquist. This puts the mayor at odds with both the Milwaukee business community and Senator Herb Kohl, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.

The GMC, the elite group of business leaders, made an announcement earlier this week recommending the Wisconsin Center and the Bradley Center merge into one sports and entertainment district. The Bradley Center’s leaders want to renovate their building, adding new luxury suites, club seats, a new restaurant and an adjacent mid-size theater, in order to earn more revenue. The goal is to bail-out the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Bradley Center wants tax money to help pay for the development.

Norquist is dubious about the need for tax subsidies. Compared to other tenants at the Bradley Center, he notes, “The Bucks have a much better contract than the Mustangs or any one else.”

When it comes to financing sports stadiums and arenas, he adds, “The traditional way has been to increase the public share. But the [National Basketball Association] has been more creative in coming up with ways other than just raw public subsidies.”

Norquist has often irritated business leaders with his criticism of “subsidies.” To the GMC, executive director Bob Milbourne says, the Bradley Center project is not asking for public subsidy, but an “investment,” because “an investment has a return.”

The return on the investment would be more development downtown, as the area around the Bradley Center expands into a sports and entertainment district. But to Norquist, “when you get these complicated private public deals, usually it’s a private guy with his hands on the public purse.”

Is that a slap at Herb Kohl, a fellow Democrat? Norquist says all the right things about Kohl: “Retaining the Bucks is important to the community. The owner is well respected. He lives in the community and he won’t sell the team.”

But Kohl is a wealthy man (his net worth has been estimated at $300 million), and city officials have privately squirmed at the idea of a tax break for someone so wealthy, much less a US Senator.

Norquist’s solution to the Bucks’ need for more revenue is to do more ads.

The mayor visited Conseco Fieldhouse, where the Indiana Pacers play, and notes “They advertise on almost every square inch. I was impressed. If it comes to keeping a team and you have to really commercialize it, I think the average Milwaukeean would prefer that. My message to the Bradley Center board was to go ahead and commercialize it.”

One can imagine the Bradley Center board’s annoyance at such a lecture. The board may also feel this approach would upset Jane Pettit, who spent $90 million to create this tribute to her father Harry Bradley. The Bradley Center has clearly concluded it needs tax money for its expansion plans, and that’s where the Wisconsin Center comes in. The latter was chartered by the state as a taxing district (it collects the hotel-motel and car rental tax), which helps pay for the maintenance of the Midwest Express Center, Auditorium and US Cellular Arena. The GMC hopes the Wisconsin Center will adopt the Bradley Center, so its tax base can be used.

But Frank Gimbel, board chair of the Wisconsin Center, rejects the GMC’s call for making the Bradley center a “subsidiary” of the Wisconsin Center: “What’s a subsidiary going to contribute to the Wisconsin Center, except an open palm? What are we getting except a bill?”

Gimbel is known as a tough negotiator and he makes it clear the Wisconsin Center must be the governing entity for any merger, and will consider some changes in its board to help make that happen. But he cautions, “I don’t give anything away.”

Though Norquist only appoints two board members to the Convention Center, he could be an ally of the GMC as it attempts to win Gimbel over. But as Gimbel notes, he has the mayor’s support. That won’t help the mayor’s standing with business leaders.

Weekly Round Up

Those fun-loving Spice Boys have noticed our website. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnists Cary Spivak and Dan Bice wrote a piece suggesting my coverage of the Norquist-Figueroa controversy shows I have a conflict of interest and am ingratiating myself with the mayor. I suppose I could send them any stories we do that are critical of the mayor, but it appears the boys are already following me very closely. I appreciate that, guys, and keep the free publicity coming.

In the meantime, a rather major new story eluded the Spicers. Both this website and the Journal-Sentinel ran stories yesterday summarizing what’s contained in the state files on Figueroa and Norquist. MJS reporter Greg Borowski wrote a tough story concluding Figueroa’s witnesses “generally were not told of the alleged harassment until long after it began, if ever.” If I didn’t know better, I’d swear Borowski was trying to ingratiate himself with the mayor.

Another slap at can be found at the website, which offers an article by Robert Miranda concluding that this site was “developed by some white men who have to ties to ultra-conservative foundations.” I regret to say I have no such funding, but will gladly accept subscribers of any color or political persuasion. Miranda also describes this writer as “a sheepish wild-eyed hungry looking fellow by the name of Bruce Murphy.” Very prettily put.

Names in the News

Senator Kohl has gotten some national ink for his childcare tax credit provision, which was included as part of the tax cut bill President Bush signed into law Thursday. Beginning in 2002, employers can receive a 25 percent tax credit for building and operating childcare centers, or training childcare workers.

Kohl’s colleague, Sen. Russ Feingold, made some noise with his opposition to the death penalty opponent, and was quoted to the effect that 17 of the remaining 19 federal death row inmates are minorities.

Former governor Tommy Thompson, now serving as Health and Human Services Secretary, continues to come off as the secret liberal in the George W. Bush administration. In the past, Thompson has praised groundbreaking stem cell research while Bush has opposed it as inconsistent with his opposition to abortion. Thompson and Bush “hope to come to a place that is a unifying position,” an HHS spokesperson diplomatically suggested.

And Thompson spoke to the Grocery Manufacturers of America’s annual Executive Conference in White Sulphur Springs, WV, and acknowledged the need for more government, specifically more food inspections and additional resources for the Food and Drug Administration. “We have to do a better job of inspecting food,” Thompson declared. “There are just too many problems with pathogens and food adulterations.”

Milwaukee’s Foley & Lardner law firm won national press for its latest expansion: its Public Affairs Practice Group will be joined by Sullivan & Mitchell, P.L.L.C. The move brings nationally recognized political law attorneys Cleta Mitchell and Paul Sullivan to Foley’s Washington, D.C. office as partners in the Public Affairs Practice Group. The merger took effect June 1, 2001. Sullivan & Mitchell has built a reputation for campaign finance and election law.

One industry publication concluded that as a result of such mergers, Foley now has “a strong presence in Washington, D.C., as well as in Wisconsin, Florida and California…Foley’s 19-member Public Affairs Practice Group has developed a national footprint that is matched by few other firms.”

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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7 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Personal Foul – Norquist Loses Points With the Business Community”

  1. Gary says:

    I love history and re-reading it. Thank you Bruce Murphy!

  2. Bill Kissinger says:

    Gary, Rereading or reliving? As in “Those who forget the past are destined to relive it.” From the original article: “The return on the investment would be more development downtown, as the area around the Bradley Center expands into a sports and entertainment district.”

    Where is that promised entertainment district? Why it is just one more public “investment” away!

  3. David says:

    It’s been covered Bill….. time to move on.

  4. Tom says:


    “Those who forget the past are destined to relive it.”

    According to Freud all we do is forget the past and then relive it.

  5. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Nothin new the unions and the businesses always have their hands out, like Prevailing wage and the Arena, trolleys to get our money from our pocket to their pockets.

  6. Marie says:

    Downtown and vicinity has plenty of “entertainment” zones and various establishments are already competing with each other. It’s other development that’s needed. The Bucks just want to siphon the bar/dining market, and get the city to subsidize them to do it.

    So they’ve wanted to leach off the Wisconsin District for 14 years. Wow. The WCD may have its issues, but it’s no solution just to force them to borrow money so they can be the cover/fall guy for raising taxes for the arena.

    So the tough negotiators (Norquist and Gimbel) are out of the picture and now we’ve got politicians eager to give them the farm and more.

  7. M says:

    …To the GMC, executive director Bob Milbourne says, the Bradley Center project is not asking for public subsidy, but an “investment,” because “an investment has a return.”…

    So what might that return have been (or will be next time)? The fully-donated BC has gotten millions in state subsidies and hundreds of thousands in city subsidies, and it’s still $20 million in debt (and no one knows who’s on the hook–Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, perhaps). And it will cost many millions to demolish the albatross someday.

    Let’s forget the “public investment” jargon and just admit arenas are High-end Money Pits–but we love them anyway!! They make us feel better about ourselves and our futures. They’re much sexier than roads, bridges, schools, parks or any other public investment. Well, what happens in arenas is sexier, and without an arena we’ll be a Big Nothing (even with the Big Gig)…So just turn on the Public Spigot already! Let’s not think about math–the night is young.

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