James Rowen
Op Ed

Why Dane County Beat Us In Property Value

State policies going back many years have hurt Milwaukee County.

By - Aug 16th, 2018 12:23 pm
Downtown Madison, WI with the Monona Terrace in view. Photo by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

Downtown Madison, WI with the Monona Terrace in view. Photo by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

So when media write about the new study showing Dane County’s total property value passed that of Milwaukee County‘s, keep in mind:

*  Even with so-called small government Republicans in charge – – so-called, given their addiction to winner-and-loser defining taxpayer subsidies and wipe outs of local governmental authority – – governments impact population and property value growth in ways both substantial and subtle.

*   Milwaukee has been land-locked since the adoption of a special state law in 1955. Madison’s annexation advantage was mentioned in the Journal Sentinel’s coverage of the property valuation disparity, but the state law was not.

It’s ironic that the law freezing Milwaukee’s boundaries was known as the Oak Creek law because the central dispute at the time involved a power generating station there, and today Oak Creek’s development is being spurred by major developments by Northwestern Mutual and IKEA.

*  Highway expansion which is 100 percent publicly-financed with the encouragement of 100 percent government-funded regional government planners at SEWRPC working in a suburban setting with a similarly-constructed workforce and philosophy – – and no designated city commissioner among the 21 who run it – – has been poured into the Milwaukee area by the billions of dollars to serve suburban and exurban commuters while simultaneously removing taxable property from City of Milwaukee tax rolls.

Waukesha County’s Pabst Farms residential and commercial development has been assisted by millions of dollars in publicly-financed local TIF funding, and state highway spending which included an expanded I-94 interchange, access roads and roundabouts.

And with these distortions, legacy discrimination is further embedded. With remedies that cost money.

*  Also, when government officials cut transit services to Milwaukee, kill rail services or bar through restrictive legislation the formation of transit-coordinating regional authorities, they are also engaging in job protectionism which boosts suburban growth and opportunity at the expense of Milwaukee and its residents.

And how many governmental bodies have had a hand in steering development, property tax base growth, employment and housing through multiple diversions of Great Lakes water to Pleasant Prairie, Menomonee Falls, New Berlin, Waukesha and, soon, to Mount Pleasant for Foxconn – – all outside of Milwaukee?

And note the expansion of the diverted-water-demanding City of Waukesha’s land mass through annexations, cited in this posting, which, if you read a report’s footnotes included, indicates that Waukesha had not turned down in planners’ memories a single annexation. Again, Waukesha can grow through annexation, while Milwaukee cannot.

*  It’s not surprising that the aforementioned SEWRPC would, from its Waukesha County base, recommend Great Lakes diversions to Waukesha, and to other suburban jurisdictions, while Waukesha County officials have been busy converting farmland to subdivisions as the county’s population is projected to grow from 360,000 in 2000 to 509,000 in complete build-out, farm-free mode.

*  And don’t forget to factor in other government subsidies and policies which encourage growth at the edges and exurbs, from tax incremental financing to industrial revenue bonding to state and federal property tax and mortgage deductions.

Of course these programs are available in Milwaukee, too, but the city must principally grow vertically inside government-enforced borders, while Madison and other communities have far more latitude and land with which to work.

James Rowen, a former journalist and mayoral staffer in Milwaukee and Madison, writes a regular blog, The Political Environment.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics, Real Estate

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