Monday, September 27, 2010

McIlheran: Walker's Failings Aren't Walker's Fault

In his column in Sunday's paper, Patrick McIlheran tries to stand up for Scott Walker and his failed economic development program.

McIlheran manages to blame everyone and everything shy of sunspots for Walker's failure:

Barrett's real point was the geography. The former freeway is county land. When former Mayor John Norquist ordered the freeway destroyed, he and others predicted that development would flock there. It hasn't, and Barrett said this was Walker's fault.

It must be someone's fault, since such great things were predicted. So sure was the Milwaukee County Board of the site's appeal that it added some conditions. Anyone buying Park East land from the county had to pay union-scale construction wages, had to hit certain racial hiring quotas, had to prefer city contractors, had to meet certain "green" building standards.

These rules add significant costs. Builders warned the board of this. The board scoffed. Walker vetoed the conditions as job-killing social engineering. The board overrode him. The land was "so valuable that, in my mind, we will get what we want," said the plan's sponsor, Willie Johnson Jr.

What we got was gravel. Walker, it turns out, was right. The land lay unbought through boom years as developers took their capital to less costly, less bossy places. This was the predictable result of harnessing economic development to an urge to re-engineer society.

At this point, I should note that Barrett, when running for mayor, supported a package of such requirements for that land.

In other words, it's the fault of African Americans, people wanting to make a wage that would support a family, environmentalists, the County Board and Milwaukeeans that Walker couldn't get that land sold in eight years. At least in McIlheran's world.

Unfortunately for McIlheran, his world and reality don't often sync up together.

If these conditions were so abhorrent, why has Tom Barrett and the City of Milwaukee, who face much the same conditions as the County, able to excel at economic development? In fact, Barrett and the city have such a good track record that Walker had once proposed that the County give the City the land for them to work on the development.

What McIlheran doesn't mention is the fact that instead of competent people, Walker had a revolving door for his appointments to that position until he put in campaign staffers like Bob Dennick and Tim Russell to lead the economic development efforts. Their success was somewhat less than spectacular, often leading up to massive deficits. Then in 2009, Walker totally abolished the Economic Division, only to ask for it to be reinstated this year. Even then, it took him until last month to fill the position.

I'm no expert in economic development, but I would suspect it would make things easier for companies who wanted to come to Milwaukee County to have someone to contact rather than get lost in a bureaucratic shuffle. Likewise, things would probably be greatly expedited by having some actually actively trying to sell the land than hoping a passerby might see the lot full of gravel and think this would be a great place to build his business.

Even if McIlheran was correct that the prevailing wage laws or the expectations of the building to be tinted even the slightest bit of green might have made things a little more difficult, Scott Walker never allowed it to get that far to find out by sabotaging the process well before it got that far.

See also: James Rowen vs. the Mr. Teflon


  1. That's Scotty's rule of thumb: the buck stops somewhere over there."

  2. Patrick McIlheran accepted an "award" from the Koch Industries-funded Americans For Prosperity. He and his editor should be fired and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel readers should be alerted, just as they are breathlessly alerted when the paper wins ANY award.