Will Milwaukee get a streetcar?
Will Milwaukee get a streetcar?

These political decisions will have major consequences

If it seems like so many public policy decisions are hanging fire in Wisconsin these days, it’s only because they are.

And so many of these loose ends seem to be intertwined and interdependent.

Let’s start with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Will he run for president? By hiring a national campaign consultant, making frequent trips to states such as Iowa and Florida and jetting around to meet with wealthy donors, it sure looks that way. And if he does run for president, will he resign as governor?

Before we get to that decision, will Walker approve the proposed Kenosha casino? It stands to reason that his decision there will be filtered through his presidential campaign lens. His decision on the casino must be made by Feb. 19. Walker has said he wants no net gain in gambling in Wisconsin. Yet, conservative talk radio noise is chiding him to approve the Kenosha project and the jobs it would create.

Meanwhile, which Downtown site will the Milwaukee Bucks select as their preferred venue for a new arena? Once that decision is announced, how will the public financing for the new arena be generated? Again, will Walker be willing to support that financing?

Will the City of Milwaukee get permission to develop its proposed downtown streetcar system? As opponents scramble to gain enough signatures to force a referendum on the proposal, sources have told me that some key out-state Republican legislators are questioning why Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett needs public financing for the new arena while at the same time he wants to commit public financing for the streetcar system. Meanwhile, critics among the Milwaukee African American community contend that the streetcar system will not serve the inner city.

But wait. If the arena becomes the priority at the expense of the streetcar, then that could endanger the feasibility of the Couture, the $122 million, 44-story apartment building proposed for Milwaukee’s lakefront. The Barrett administration has intertwined the streetcar and the Couture. At this point, it could be an all-or-nothing proposition for both of them.
At the same time, what will become of O’Donnell Park in downtown Milwaukee? The Milwaukee County Board rejected Northwestern Mutual Insurance Co. Inc.’s offer to buy the park for $14 million. Supervisors Patricia Jursik, Gerry Broderick and Jason Haas then turned around and introduced a resolution to request proposals to repair leakages and fix other disrepairs at O’Donnell Park after rejecting Northwestern Mutual’s offer to take that death trap off of the county’s hands.

Keep in mind that a report from the Office of the Comptroller estimates that the ultimate costs for the county to replace the structure at O’Donnell Park could reach as much as $68 million in 20 years.

"Instead of wasting their time creating a task force to develop a vision for this parking structure, these Supervisors should be getting down on their hands and knees, apologizing and begging Northwestern Mutual to reconsider the original proposal," said Supervisor Steve Taylor.

As the saying goes, elections have consequences. Yes, they certainly do.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.

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