A Startling Breakthrough

In an innovative line of thought, unheard of in modern times and perhaps left behind by the mysterious alien intelligences that built the pyramids and the nature-loving primitive people who built Stonehenge, a concerned group of government tag-alongs has come up with a plan to add jobs: spend government money.

A group of people concerned about the lack of economic development and jobs on the north and west sides of Milwaukee have put together a plan they are convinced would make a difference.

Now, they just need the city, county, state and banks to go along with them – to the tune of $400 million.

So what’s the plan? According to Edward McDonald, the University of Wisconsin Extension agent who drafted it, the proposal involves designating a wide area of the central city – from W. Burleigh St. to W. Highland Ave. and from the Milwaukee River to N. 60th St. – for improvement.

It would set up a community council to oversee the project, and have the council develop catalyst projects, already designated by city planners, that would spur adjacent development.

Money would somehow be cobbled together from existing government funds and bank loans, encouraged by government deposits. It would be spent over four years.

The plan? Spend $100,000,000 a year funding council to develop buzzword buzzword buzzword. Exclamation point!

God-luv-em, they are so earnest.

Call it the no government tag-along left behind act. But don’t call it “stimulus” because that buzzword no longer focus groups well.

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Also Required: Photos of Your Children To Prove They Were Not Kidnapped

Greenfield and other cities impose strict new rules on resale shops :

Moms come into New to You Kids in Greenfield every week to sell their babies’ outgrown rompers to the small resale shop. But the business says it will have to close if it has to comply with a new city ordinance requiring it to take each mom’s picture and send that, along with detailed descriptions of the items she sells, to a police database every day.

The Greenfield ordinance also imposes transaction fees on resale stores that could amount to tens of thousands of dollars annually – a big burden for small retailers.

This also applies to bookstores, apparently:

Half-Price Books, a national resale chain that has a store a few doors down from Reinhardt’s in the Greenfield Fashion Center, will consider getting out of its lease, district manager Joe Desch said.

Half-Price also is thinking about filing a lawsuit against Greenfield on First Amendment grounds, because the new ordinance, which takes effect next summer, will require the bookstore to send police a daily list of customers who sell books to them, with identification and titles sold.

No word on if the book sellers need to provide a book report for their new mommy, the government.

(Link seen on the Twitterverse.)

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In A Stunning Turn Of Events, Tax Will Not Sunset As Predicted

A tax designed to pay for the Milwaukee baseball stadium will not sunset on schedule:

New financial projections released Tuesday suggest the sunset year for the Miller Park stadium sales tax will be between 2016 and 2018, at least two years later than originally thought.

For several years, the Miller Park stadium district had relied on projections that the 0.1% sales tax could be retired in 2014. But in recent months, the effects of the economic recession have taken their toll: Sales-tax receipts in the five counties where the tax is collected plummeted 9.45% from 2008 to 2009.

It’s always something.

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But For The Lack Of Budget

You know the implications of this, right? County transit ridership falls 9%:

Milwaukee County Transit System ridership plunged to a 35-year low last year as the bus system was battered by the recession, a fare increase and a pullout of Milwaukee Public Schools students.

This means that we could trim the budget and cut back since ridership is down. Ha, ha, WRONG!

The 9% ridership drop adds urgency to a push for new state legislation that would create an expanded regional transit authority and authorize a 0.5% sales tax to fund the bus system.

The day is sunny? The government must have more money. The day is rainy? The government must have more money. Ridership is up? The government must have more money. Ridership is down? The government must have more money.

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Police Chief: You Cannot Do Legal Things With Impunity

Wisconsin’s Attorney General has said open carry is legal in Wisconsin.

Milwaukee’s Police Chief says he will not abide by people doing this legal thing:

“If my officers see someone walking around the City of Milwaukee with a firearm openly displayed, it borders on irresponsible if I were to communicate to members of my community that they can carry that firearm with impunity,” Flynn said.

Embrace the arbitrariness of law enforcement. If we don’t like what’s legal, we enforce our own standards.

Good for paperback fiction, bad for a civilized society.

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The Boilerplate

How often newspapers pose the important question about governmental authorities who might have done wrong based on a single citizen’s spurious and often dubious assertion. Here’s one such story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Questions arise after girl’s day out of school:

As Milwaukee Public Schools spokeswoman Roseann St. Aubin puts it, “A 12-year-old girl, it’s not appropriate that she’s out without the family knowing where she is.”

As the mother of this particular girl and MPS officials agree, the sixth-grader was out of Burroughs Middle School, 6700 N. 80th St., for a day last week without her family knowing about it.

Whose fault was that? The school’s or the girl’s?

According to St. Aubin, the girl was suspended from school April 22 for misbehaving in class. The mother said the suspension was a result of a verbal argument between the girl and another girl during a class.

St. Aubin said the girl was told of the suspension and given a letter to take home to her parents, and she was not supposed to come to school the next day. A voice mail message explaining that was left for the girl’s mother, St. Aubin said.

The mother says the girl was not told she was suspended and the mother didn’t get the letter or a voice mail.

The girl went to school the next day.

The mother said her daughter told her that shortly after she got to school, she was told by an assistant principal that she had to leave and was given a dismissal pass and a bus ticket to go home. Administrators ordered her to go out the door, the mother said. She said her daughter did not know how to take a bus home and went to Noyes Park, several blocks north of the school, where she spent the day without food or shelter.

The mother showed reporters the girl’s suspension notice, an early dismissal slip from the school with a time of 9:20 a.m. that day written on it, and a bus ticket she said was the one given her daughter. [Emphasis added.]

Good on the paper for bringing to light this story of a suspended girl who apparently told her mother she didn’t know that she was suspended. Mysteriously, the notice that she was suspended appears as evidence that the school did wrong.

As a government entity, the paper holds the school up as an example of government incompetence or malfeasance. At least until the time comes to raise taxes to give more money to those incompetents or miscreants, in which case it will become a moral imperative to support the bureaucracy against the individual tax payers.

You know, that should be only one word, tax payers. Breaking it out into two somehow seems to add a certain emphasis that is lost when it’s classified through single word usage.

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The Sun Never Sets On The Taxation Empire

A tax scheduled to end? Stop!

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and two local law enforcement officials want telephone users to help pay for police, firefighters and paramedics through their phone bills.

Barrett, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and Police Chief Edward Flynn are asking Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature to give municipalities control over the 911 telephone surcharge that is supposed to expire Nov. 30. They’re hoping to add that provision to the budget-repair bill now under consideration.

Even better, the mayor wants to expand the tax:

The surcharge on cellular telephone users was created in 2005 to cover the costs of technology to pinpoint the locations of cell phones during calls to the 911 emergency number. Montgomery said that technology has saved at least 15 lives statewide.

The fee started at 83 cents a month, rose to 92 cents in 2006 and then dropped this year to 43 cents.

But before the fee expires, Barrett wants lawmakers to authorize municipal governments to retain the surcharge and expand it to cover all telephones, including land lines provided by both telephone and cable companies. Milwaukee would be able to boost its charge to a maximum of $1 a month in 2009 and $1.50 a month in future years.[Emphasis added]

In the sidebar, the mayor as quoted as saying, “Gun crime is expensive, and fighting crime is expensive.” Gee, mayor, how about some prioritization? Pick either gun crime or fighting crime then, instead of making taxpayers of your (formerly) fair city pay for everything you can dream of in your power-mad dreams?

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If the Headline Has A Question Mark, The Answer Is No

Funny how newspapers run stories that agree with their unmarked policy positions with headlines that assert truth, but stories that call into question their rah-rahing of government growth or crony capitalism merit question marks. Here’s one in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the new ballpark, Miller Park: Miller Park: Economic promises got it built. Has it paid?

If the experts are questioning or debating, the answer is not an untrammeled “Yes,” is it? It just means some experts could find some metric that was encouraging.

Maybe Milwaukee needs a new, public-funded archery arena in the same neighborhood to really turn on the destination venue tap.

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A Tax That Doesn’t Sunset? You Don’t Say!

Stadium tax might live on after 2014:

The amount of sales-tax revenue distributed in 2007 to the Miller Park stadium district increased by only 1.8% over the previous year, raising new concerns the five-county tax will not be retired as hoped in 2014.

Which raises the distinct possibility that the stadium will be empty because the Milwaukee Brewers become the San Antonio Migrants or the stadium will be replaced to keep the Brewers in town before the sales tax is retired.

But you’re telling me that taxes with expiration dates are more likely to stick around than tax cuts with expiration dates? This is a stunning turn of events, indeed!

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Only Unsympathetic Because It’s Never Happened to Me Because I’m Not HOT!

Ex-mayoral aide claims lawyer harassed her:

A former Milwaukee mayoral aide whose sex-harassment case forced then-Mayor John Norquist out of politics has filed a sex-related complaint against the lawyer who represented her in the Norquist case.

At some point, you have to wonder if this continues to happen to her because she’s a repeated victim or because she’s just so irresistible and unable to say, “No, thank you, I gave at the office.”

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Obvious Solution Eludes Government Officials, Sycophants

Late tax payments rise again in county:

Milwaukee County, including some of its most affluent suburbs, had a double-digit increase in the percentage of property owners unable to pay their tax bills in 2007, a trend that began last year with a 26% surge in the value of tax delinquencies in the county’s suburbs alone.

In all, 17,960 Milwaukee County properties were delinquent as of September on taxes levied for the current year, up 14% from 15,754 as of September 2006. The City of Milwaukee and 14 of its 18 suburbs posted double-digit percentage increases in delinquencies, representing almost $37 million in unpaid taxes this year.

Much of the blame has been levied on the mortgage crisis, in which a proliferation of nontraditional mortgages and predatory lending practices over the last two years have put many buyers – even those in higher income brackets – in over their heads.

But economists and credit counselors point to numerous pressures in a weak economy where minimal wage gains are being eaten away by the rising cost of everything from food and utilities to mortgages and taxes. Since late summer 2006, ground beef prices have risen by 6.7%, chicken breasts by 6.9% and whole milk by 26%, and the federal Energy Information Administration on Tuesday predicted an 11% increase in Midwest winter heating bills.

What else has gone up?

A few dismissed the notion that rising tax bills played a role, though Milwaukee County taxpayers owed at least $35 million more in taxes this year than last, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

“The tax bill doesn’t go up enough to cause that problem,” said Chris Swartz, village manager in Shorewood, where delinquent property owners owed an average of $6,600 a parcel, second only to River Hills.

Of course not. Given the choice between heat, food, fuel, and property tax bills, where do you think people’s priorities lie?

No doubt the municipal officials are ready to pillory private industry for forcing people to choose to spend their money on non-essentials.

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Milwaukee, Having No Budgetary Concerns, Moves Into Unsecured Lending

City to fund part of office building repairs:

The owners of a downtown Milwaukee office building will receive city financing to help with repairs – even though the comptroller’s office questions whether the funds are needed, and even as some aldermen fret that their decision could encourage other building owners to ask for cash.

“We’re setting a very dangerous precedent,” said Ald. Michael Murphy, one of two aldermen who opposed the financing plan.

Supporters say the project will make one of downtown’s oldest office buildings more competitive, while also breathing new life into an adjacent building that’s been empty for several years.

Oh, for Pete’s sake. Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t these sorts of “initiatives” coming faster and more frequently these days? Are our municipal leaders that eager to hasten the death spiral of their cities finances? Yes, as long as the ultimate crash comes after the municipal leaders have moved onto state or national leadership positions, where they can control bigger economies and initiate bigger five year plans.

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City of Milwaukee Moves to Dave & Busters Approach

Columnist Eugene Kane draws our attention to the fact that parking meters in the city of Milwaukee are moving to a credit card based approach:

Instead of a row of mechanical meters, there’s one automated machine on each side of the block. You have to note your parking space number – the old meters are replaced by numbered signs – and punch it into the machine.

It’s still the same $2 for two hours, but you can pay with either coins or a credit card. In the first few weeks, Floyd said, 40% of parkers have paid by credit card.

For those – like me – who worried that paying by credit card might be more expensive due to transaction fees, Floyd said the City of Milwaukee agreed to pay any additional credit card fees connected with the new meters to promote their use. Floyd said the limit on a two-hour spot remains the same.

Why would the city of Milwaukee go through all of that trouble and pay the credit card companies for the privilege of not having to deal with coins?

Because once you get used to just swiping your card, you’ll be less likely to notice or care that suddenly that $2 for 2 hours is $2.50, then $3.25 for two hours because you’re not counting physical coins for it.

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May The Biggest Kickback Win

City officials in Milwaukee have a dilemma:

Developers want free money:

More than three years after the Park East Freeway spur was torn down, 16 acres of prime downtown land remain barren – and developers say it’s time for city officials to help make something happen there.

“There’s gridlock right now, and I’m concerned this thing is going to blow up,” said Gary Grunau, who is building the new Manpower Inc. headquarters, just north of the Park East area. “Somebody’s got to show some leadership.”

“Leadership,” of course, is a euphemism for “government giveaways to private business” in forms of tax abatement, zoning variations, and loan co-signing. Of course, this would be a no-brainer, as government officials tend to want to hump the legs of all developers they can.


Concerns about city financing for hotel projects have been raised by Greg Marcus, executive vice president of Marcus Corp., which operates three downtown hotels: InterContinental Milwaukee Hotel, Hilton Milwaukee City Center and the Pfister Hotel.

Marcus, in a March 6 letter to Mayor Tom Barrett, said efforts to “subsidize construction of hotel rooms without first stimulating demand for those rooms” will “simply siphon off demand from existing (privately financed) hotel rooms.”

It sounds like there’s trouble in paradise, right? Heavy hitters in the local industry making noises like this, sounding almost laissez-faire.

Aw, if I believed that, I wouldn’t be a good cynic. The government has enough favors for all fat cats. I expect the city of Milwaukee will cosign the loans for the speculative development and will throw sops to existing businesses, maybe even before they’re failing on account of the city’s meddling in a market economy. After all, there can never be too many cronies in crony capitalism.

Ah, Milwaukee. Briefly, you were more than St. Louis, but you’re in a hurry to sink to its post-industrial, post-unsupported business level.

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Sometimes Taxes Just Ain’t Enough

Milwaukee Public School seeks "donations":

Is it worth $300 a year for your child to go to the Milwaukee High School of the Arts?

A group of parents involved with the Milwaukee Public Schools’ specialty school is answering yes and has sent all the school’s parents a letter asking them to donate or raise that much per student to strengthen arts programming there.

Although the $300 is not a fee or a requirement, the campaign is about as close as a public school can come to making parents pay extra for activities that are part of the regular content of a school’s program and may be unprecedented in MPS.

Hey, how about firing a couple junior-level administrators?

No, instead, since the normal year-round student-centric fundraising isn’t doing it, how about making them come up with “donations.” We can be sure that students will continue to be chosen for this specialty school on talent, but it might not continue to be artistry in the future.

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Backers and Leaders Want Gravy Train

In Milwaukee, another unelected authority has revived another way to spend the public’s money: commuter rail:

As soon as next month, regional leaders could start discussing whether to get aboard a $237 million plan to link Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and the southern suburbs with commuter trains.

This is no doubt in addition to the light rail initiatives. Normally, this would be a problem with a plan, but since it’s a government authority, it’s no reason to pause:

Rail backers are touting the plan’s expected economic benefits, while the new Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority is wrestling with how to pay for the service.

If people wanted it, there would be a market for it, and perhaps a free market enterprise of some sort could provide it. But, nah, it’s all about featherbedding authority positions and salaries for the participants.

Kudos, though, to the plan’s originators. With full knowledge that there’s no funding in place, they’ve come up with a plan that’s even more expensive than the last one:

In its latest form, the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line, or KRM Commuter Link, would offer more frequent service and more stops – but at a higher cost – than the version that emerged from a previous study in 2003.

Man, I wish I were a quasi-government functionary, shuffling papers and preparing plan documents for an exhorbitant salary. Unfortunately, I am cursed with self-respect.

UPDATE: Owen of Boots and Sabers, more proximate to the impending fiscal train wreck than I am, weighs in.

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The Milwukee Witch’s House

Early in the morning, the mists rising from Lake Michigan creep over its shorelines and extend their tendrils into the nearby yards and neighborhoods, giving a feeling as esoteric and eldritch as any New England setting from an H.P. Lovecraft story. If one takes a curving road along the lake shore in Fox Point, Wisconsin, one’s headlights trickle over the foliage until the most pagan of sites emerges from the gloom. Concrete totems lurk behind a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. As many generations of Milwaukee-area residents know, this seemingly calm, semi-secluded area is the Witch’s House. A guide, if present, will insist with as much vehemence as a raised whisper can allow that everyone roll up the windows and lock the car doors and will exhort the driver not to stop.

Some whisper that a woman lived in the home with her husband and young son. One day, the husband and son took the family boat out onto the Great Lake and capsized just offshore. Her family drowned within sight of the woman, and she was powerless to help them. The woman thought that the spirits of the water would come to take her to join her husband and son, so she began to make warding statues to keep the water spirits at bay. Another story claimed that she killed her husband and child herself and hid them among the statues.

The real story of the Milwaukee Witch’s House is more benign. Artist Mary Nohl, born in 1914 and a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, inherited the family land and cottage in the 1960s. She began to create an art environment, crafting sculptures in such media as concrete, tree branches, sand, and other items that washed ashore on her property. Given her influences and preferred subject matter of whimsical and mythic figures and the fact that she remained single fueled the spooky rumors that drove young spectre seekers to her neighborhood late at night. By all accounts, Ms. Nohl did not mind the underground attention she received, as she didn’t prosecute trespassers and once remarked, as a group of young people viewed her work from outside the fence, that they had good taste.

Although Mary Nohl died in 2001, the house remains an art environment to this day. Mary Nohl donated the land and millions of dollars to the Kohler Foundation, and the foundation would like to open the house as a museum so visitors can enjoy the works of Mary Nohl without the mystery and foreboding. However, other residents of the Fox Point neighborhood are taking steps to prevent the land from becoming a museum, undoubtedly tired of decades of nocturnal visitors of the teenaged sort.

For at least a short time, restless wayfarers can drive by the site at the witching hour with unwitting companions and continue to embellish the tale of the Witch’s House and to view the works in the traditional method, with all of with the mystery and foreboding young imaginations can ferment.

Other reading:
Kohler Foundation description of the Mary Nohl Site:

Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation, 10 Most Endangered Properties list including Nohl House

Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places Entry for Mary Nohl Art Environment:

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl column “Pilgrimage to ‘witch’s house’ was a rite of passage”:

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel news item “Artist’s legacy lingers: Some residents fight preservation of woman’s quirky lakefront home”:

Sound like a piece you would find on Damn Interesting? Well, yeah, it was one of my sample pieces. It was not accepted, and it wasn’t doing anything on my hard drive, so there you go.

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