Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Milwaukee’s Mighty Economy Crushes Other Nations

By - Jul 18th, 2001 05:04 pm

Milwaukee has a new way to brag about itself. A new study that ranks the metro areas of America as though they were nations shows the Milwaukee economy has a gross product of $55 billion, bigger than that of Algeria ($53 billion) or New Zealand ($52 billion).

The Milwaukee gross product of $55 billion outscores the Czech Republic and Hungary. With a little work, we can pass Nigeria.

The study, which was commissioned by the United States Conference of Mayors, is intended to dramatize the importance of cities in America. Its combined ranking of nations and American metro areas shows that New York has an economy bigger than all but 13 countries in the world. The Milwaukee-Waukesha area, as the study refers to it, is a good deal down the list, at number 91, which puts it behind 41 metro areas and 49 countries.

Still, that leaves us ahead of some sizable countries, including the Czech Republic ($51 billion), Hungary ($47 billion) and oil-rich Kuwait ($38 billion). And we absolutely crush Croatia ($19 billion), obliterate Oman ($19 billion) and decapitate Kazakhstan ($18 billion). “We also rank ahead of the republic of Madison,” quips Steve Filmanowicz, spokesperson for Mayor John Norquist. Mad City came in at number 166 on the hit parade, with a Kazakhstan-like GP of $18 billion.

Of course, there will always be those who see the glass as half empty, who will rub our nose in the fact that Milwaukee ranks behind Bergen-Passaic, New Jersey (is that actually a city?), Puerto Rico and Peru. But County Executive F. Thomas Ament is not one of those naysayers. “I’m delighted to see Milwaukee rank that high,” he says. “But we’re still going to be working to make our economy higher.”

With just a little work, Tom, we can pass Nigeria (only $100,000 above us). But United Arab Emirates, the next nation above us, with an economy $6 billion bigger, could be a challenge. Maybe after we halt the brain drain.

Marc Morial, mayor of New Orleans and president of the conference of mayors, announced the study with a speech that echoed, if it didn’t downright steal, Mayor John Norquist’s adage that you can’t build a city on pity, and that mayors need to stop going to Washington with a tin cup. “What cities have done is turn the tin cup over,” Morial declared. “It used to be that mayors came to Washington looking for, asking for, begging for, pleading for money from all of the departments of the federal government.”

Not any more. Now they ask for an investment, which is different, sort of. Morial noted that American cities represent 47 of the 100 largest economies in the world. “If this nation is going to continue to grow, it will only happen if we invest in the metropolitan economies of American cities,” he concluded.

THE LATEST ON INDIAN GAMING: Some Wisconsin observers are wondering what the impact will be of a U.S. District Court decision that overturned Indian gaming in Arizona. The judge declared that “Federal law does not permit the state to enter compacts authorizing the tribes to engage in gaming otherwise prohibited by state law,” a maxim that the Arizona Republic predicts “could affect gaming in the other 28 states with Indian casinos.”

Wisconsin’s constitution, after all, does not explicitly permit slot machines, which you find at Indian casinos. But Michael McClure, attorney for the Wisconsin Division of Gaming, notes that a federal court has already ruled Wisconsin’s lottery opened the door to casinos because it defines a lottery as “any game involving prize, chance and consideration.” McClure says he hasn’t read the 120-page opinion in the Arizona case and is careful to say the law in this area is “a gray area,” but he clearly doesn’t expect the new ruling to have any impact in Wisconsin.

Short Takes

A source says Michael Joyce was asked to leave his job as president of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. “The board thought Joyce had a drinking problem. They brought it to his attention and suggested he should get some help. Joyce denied he had a problem.” The situation came to a head at the inauguration of George W. Bush, which some board members and Joyce attended. “Joyce had too much to drink,” the source says, and embarrassed board members. “Eventually, they suggested it was time for Joyce to move on.”

Another source, this one at the foundation, concedes that the issue did arise: “Some people did think he drank too much. But it wasn’t an instrumental part of his negotiations with the board.”

-New State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster has already made her mark. Burmaster reportedly called Governor Scott McCallum to urge him to announce his support of full funding for the SAGE program which pays for smaller classes in early elementary grades. McCallum announced his change of heart and encouraged legislators to make this a priority. If this legislation passes, as is now expected, that will be quite an accomplishment for Burmaster, who made this a priority in her campaign.

Burmaster also made the New York Times, providing the most memorable quote from state education leaders who objected to a federal proposal to institute annual testing of students. “This plan doesn’t seem to be ‘leaving no child behind,'” she said, referring to the program’s slogan. “It seems more like ‘leave no child untested.” The same story showed that Wisconsin spends less than $3 per student on testing, well below a state like Delaware ($33 per student) and one of the lowest rates in the country.

-The travails at Milwaukee Area Technical College continue. The college’s board met and was unable to elect a new slate of officers. President Sheila Cochran was absent and the eight board members who attended were split 4-4 on every vote and adjourned without making any decision.

-The New York Times did a massive and fascinating investigative story on the presidential election in Florida, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blew it off with a tiny wire service summary. The story showed how attorneys representing Bush used a highly disciplined approach to absentee ballots, and followed “a detailed playbook” with instructions on how to use every possible objection to eliminate votes in counties supporting Al Gore, while pressuring election boards to allow every absentee ballot in counties supporting Bush. Thus, while Republicans were accusing Gore of unpatriotically trying to eliminate votes by soldiers, they were doing the same thing in counties that leaned Democratic.

While Democrats focused almost all of their attention on getting a hand count in only those counties favoring Gore, the Republicans out-organized them when it came to absentee ballots. As a result, of those overseas ballots that came late, lacked a foreign postmark, lacked a legal signature, were from unregistered voters or from voters who voted twice, all were more likely to be counted in precincts that favored Bush. The Times story concludes that there “only a slight chance” that discarding the 680 flawed ballots would have erased Bush’s 537-vote margin in Florida, and offered an expert’s estimate that the margin would have been reduced by 245 votes.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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