Bruce Murphy
The Chatter

The Chicago Challenge

Economic cooperation with our massive neighbor could help Milwaukee. But Gov.Scott Walker stands in the way.

By - Jul 18th, 2012 12:13 pm


Could a closer connection with Chicago boost Milwaukee’s economy?

A recent study by the the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a global economic think tank based in Paris, has found the Chicago-Milwaukee “metroplex” underperforms economically because of fragmentation and jurisdictional rivalries, as a Sunday story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The report singles out three areas where cooperation could be improved: wind power (a huge potential strength of the region, which boasts 60 wind companies), transit (which could move needed workers to companies with unfilled positions) and recruitment of businesses (which the report says is hurt by “destructive” and “self-defeating” attempts to poach each other’s companies).

In Wisconsin, the tone for this short-sightedness is set by Gov. Scott Walker. On wind power, he supported a change in the rules that made it more difficult to install wind turbines, and reduced the state subsidy for alternative energy. On transit, he killed the high speed rail project that would have connected Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Twin Cities, and helped kill the KRM commuter line that would have connected Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha to Chicago’s Metra commute rail service.  And Walker has made speeches criticizing the tax climate in Illinois and inviting businesses in that state to move to Wisconsin.

Interestingly, most citizens in the state may not support Walker’s style of sticking it to the flatlanders.  A new poll by the Marquette Law school showed that 62 percent of state residents believe Wisconsin and Illinois should work together to promote economic development. 

Perhaps more surprising, the poll found 65 percent of Wisconsinites believe a strong Milwaukee metro economy benefits the entire state. Walker went out of his way to demonize Milwaukee in the recent recall election.

Who Will Win the U.S. Senate Primary?

Two recent polls show businessman Eric Hovde has passed two opponents, former congressman Mark Neumann and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, and may be running neck-and-neck with popular former governor Tommy Thompson. Money will do that for you: Hovde, whose net worth is estimated to be as high as $240 million, has so far spent $4 million on TV and radio time and has purchased another $1.5 million in future ad buys.

Hovde’s campaign contends this has now become a two-man race, which would help him. Thompson is likely to do well with moderates, so Hovde needs to carry the conservative vote and can’t afford to see it split three ways.  In particular, he needs voters to conclude Neumann’s bid is hopeless (Fitzgerald is a pretty distant fourth in the polls), so this becomes a two-man race. Neumann, however, promises a blitz of upcoming ads.

Right now all the money and momentum seems to be with Hovde. But the debates might change that. The first campaign forum with all the candidates takes place today at the Milwaukee Athletic Club, in an event sponsored by the conservative CRG Network.  The four GOP candidates have also agreed to a July 30 debate on a Green Bay radio station, and another debate is being organized for the Friday before the August 14 primary.

The Thompson Legacy

Madison Blogger David Blaska is a big fan of Tommy Thompson, whom he calls his “hero,” and attempts to take issue with my recent column, “Tommy the Taxer,” which documents the Tomster’s record as a tax-and-spend governor.

Blaska doesn’t deny all the data I cite. Instead he refers to an analysis by the Tax Foundation, to show that in one year the state’s ranking for tax burden compared to other states went down slightly. I’m not a fan of the foundation and its approach (it leaves out fees and other sources of state revenue), but even that analysis shows that year after year under Thompson the state ranked as the second, third or fourth highest ranked state in taxation.

It was actually under Jim Doyle, in 2008, that Wisconsin dropped out of the top ten in tax burden, for first time in more than 40 years. Of course, when you do a more accurate analysis, that includes all taxes and fees, you find the state has typically ranked close to the average. That year, for instance, the state ranked 22nd in total state/local spending as a percentage of state personal income, just 5 percent above the national average.

More on the Lakefront Tower 

The Journal Sentinel buried the story, but County Exec seems to have scored some points over the county board in the controversy over approval of the 44-story The Couture building on the lakefront. You may recall that supervisor Patricia Jursik, chair of the board’s Committee on Economic and Community Development, which must approve the development, had announced she would delay a committee vote on the project, arguing the approval process was badly damaged by Abele’s premature announcement of the project. Jursik was supported by county board chair Marina Dimitrijevic. But last Friday, the four other supervisors on the committee declared they favored taking up the proposal at their next meeting.

The rationale for delay is that there were three other proposals presented for the 2.2 acre site, including those by two local developers — Wangard Partners and Irgens Development Partners (both are based in Wauwatosa) — and one from Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos. Jursik feels her committee should look carefully at all four proposals. Only the renderings for the plan presented by Barrett Visionary Development, the proposal Abele favors, have been released to the media. And this is a hugely important piece of real estate in Milwaukee.

The rationale for going forward with the proposal Abele favors is that it was chosen unanimously by a county review committee which included county supervisor Russell W. Stamper, II, philanthropist Michael Cudahy, architect Greg Uhen, manager of county real estate services Craig Dillmann, Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux, and DCD senior economic development specialist Dan Casanova.

The Problem of Single Mothers

The Sunday New York Times did a sobering story on the difference between two parent and single parent families, concluding this accounts for as much as 40 percent of the inequality in America. It’s a lot tougher to make it on one salary and with just one parent raising the children.

Alas, this is an obvious problem for Milwaukee. A ranking of 58 cities in America by Kids Count showed Milwaukee ranked higher than most of them, with 62 percent of children born to single parents. The rate was still higher in a handful of cities, including Memphis (68 percent), Baltimore (71 percent), Detroit (72 percent) and Cleveland (74 percent).

The only good news here: Milwaukee’s campaign to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy — which has begun to have a significant impact — should help lower that dreadful ranking.

Categories: The Chatter

7 thoughts on “The Chatter: The Chicago Challenge”

  1. getch says:

    thanks for the follow up on the Lakefront Tower, its nice to know that Abele was not the only one in the approval process, and with the unanimous vote, may say something about the other projects.

  2. Kevin says:

    This may be a naïve question, but .. what does regional cooperation look like? There’ve been a ton of articles cajoling Milwaukee to work with the suburbs, Milwaukee and Kenosha/Racine to work together, Milwaukee and Madison, Madison and St. Paul/Mlps, WI and MN, WI and Illinois, ad infinitum, for years.

    To be honest, I don’t know what that is supposed to look like, or at what point in time two geographical groups are deemed “working together” for economic benefit of both?

    Are there other examples in the US, of two cities/states/counties “working together”?

    (This is for economic dev, not shared services, of which there are numerous examples, North Shore Fire Dept being one of the finest.)

  3. Bruce, you stopped using your high school picture from the magazine. You sue have aged badly.

  4. harvey rabinowitz says:

    could we see a picture of the ‘back’ of the Rinka/Chung tower? the ‘back’ of the previous two towers on the lake, University Club and Kilbourn – the view seen by most of us from the land side – were undistinguished at best.

  5. harvey rabinowitz says:

    It is not the Chicago Milwaukee metroplexas much as it is the Chicago Metroplex.
    Our tallest buildinng, the US Bank building, would be the 37th tallest building building in downtown Chicago. Southeast Wisconsin is just another suburb which will eventually be eaten up by Chicago.
    Already one-third of the workforce in Kenosha County work in Illinois and Chicago based entitities are moving into the state.

  6. Dave Reid says:

    @Harvey good point…If we can get that rendering we’ll make sure to run it.

  7. Dave Reid says:

    @Kevin Well I do think shared services is a key part of working together. Simply a reduction in duplicative services is a start. But to me supporting and implementing regional transit systems would be a huge step towards working together.

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