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Outlier in a lakefront picture PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 21 December 2016 19:46

Astonishing, jaw-dropping, shocking. 

Those were some of the words used by the Ozaukee Press readers we’ve heard from to describe the picture that spanned the full width of the front news page of the Dec. 8 issue. 

The picture was an architect’s computer-drawn image of the Port Washington lakefront looking west from an elevated viewpoint offshore showing the buildings proposed by Ansay Development.

The astonishment felt by some readers derives from the sheer size of the development—blocks of row houses, apartments and an expansive restaurant and retail building. That’s understandable; the proposal is a radical change for an old neighborhood that consists mostly of small houses.

It is also an inevitable change. Most of the land that would be occupied by the buildings proposed by Ansay is privately owned and, thanks to its proximity to Lake Michigan and the marina, is now too valuable to not develop.

Done right, the new use of that marina district land will be good for Port Washington. Projected to add tens of millions of dollars in valuation to the tax base, it would also substantially increase the downtown residential population to support a vital and appealing business district.

Questions have been raised about the height of the restaurant/retail building and some of the design aesthetics of other buildings. These must be addressed, as well as the issue of whether a competing developer should be chosen for a city-owned parcel of land in the district.

In the meantime, the picture created by Ansay Development’s architectural firm has done more than open eyes to the future of the marina district—it has performed a public service by graphically exposing the harmful folly of the city government’s relentless drive to crowd an entertainment complex called the Blues Factory onto a piece of land owned by the public at the edge of the north slip marina.

In the Ansay drawing, the Blues Factory is shown not in detail but as a mass that is an accurate depiction in shape and scale of the factorylike building designed to house the complex. The picture makes obvious what the many people in the city who oppose the Blues Factory have said from beginning: It does not belong at the water’s edge.

The dense development that is coming to the marina district makes the Blues Factory site more valuable than ever as open space protecting the public’s visual and physical access to the water—the only such space in the entire marina district development.

The picture also exposes the specious nature of the claim repeated by the mayor and aldermen that the Blues Factory is worth the sacrifice of open lakeside land because it is needed as a “catalytic” development that will encourage other investment.

The Ansay plan proves that the true catalyst for development is the appeal of the lakefront and that no encouragement from a controversial, financially risky music venue is needed.

If anything, the Blues Factory, even beyond the aesthetic damage it would do, would be a negative influence on lakefront development. The row houses in the Ansay plan had be designed to be taller than they would have been without the the monolithic Blues Factory building across the street. Even so, harbor views from the houses would be obstructed by the brick facade of the complex, hardly an appealing prospect for would-be buyers of luxury lakefront homes.

City officials have important work to do in ironing out the details of the historically huge lakefront development that is imminent. A prerequisite should be meeting with the Blues Factory’s designated developer and working with him to dissolve the agreement to sell him the north slip site. 

With the Blues Factory out of the picture, that drawing of the future lakefront would look much better.

 
Pennies to raise millions for roads PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 14 December 2016 17:47

If the government of the State of Wisconsin ever sees the light and adopts the obvious, sensible and responsible means of paying for road repair and building and other transportation needs, some of the credit should go to a Republican legislator from Delafield.

State Sen. Chris Kopenga earned that recognition last week by brilliantly making the case for increasing the gas tax to help deal with the state’s transportation funding crisis.

We should point out here that Kopenga didn’t mean to do this. He’s not a fan of the gas tax and, in fact, appears to be a bitter foe of anything spelled t-a-x.

Yet in a conference call to news organizations, including Ozaukee Press, he unintentionally revealed the beauty of the gas tax as a highway funding device by pointing out that a one-cent increase in the tax would yield $33 million a year in desperately needed transportation revenue.

Kopenga is so rigid in his anti-tax mentality that he thinks the large tax revenue number, calculated by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, is an argument against a gas-tax increase. If the senator had done the math, it might have dawned on him that it is the opposite—it is proof that a modest increase in the gas tax is an effective, easy-to-bear means for the state to meet some of its neglected transportation obligations.

Here’s the math: A Wisconsin automobile  owner who might be considered typical—driving 10,000 miles a year in a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon—would pay only $5 a year as his or her contribution to the $33 million that a one-penny-a-gallon gas tax increase would raise.

The state Transportation Fund is so far in the hole as a result of the obdurate refusal of  Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature to consider revenue-raising remedies that it would take more than a one-penny gas tax hike to make a significant dent in the deficit, but with more than 2.5 million motor vehicles registered in the state, an increase of a few cents per gallon could put the transportation funding on much firmer footing.

As an alternative, Kopenga and State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), who joined him in the conference call and voiced a similar intolerance for a gas-tax increase, want the state to go into more debt—as much as half a billion dollars more—to replenish the Transportation Fund. 

The notion that no tax increase is acceptable, regardless of how effective it would be in meeting a vital need for the people of Wisconsin, is far removed from a rational view of government responsibilities. When applied to transportation funding, it is ironic as well, because the borrowing alternative favored by anti-tax crusaders is a surefire way to inflict tax pain.

Wisconsin taxpayers are obligated to pay the interest on highway debt. That interest bill has the effect of a tax. With the half-billion more in highway debt, 25% of the highway fund would have to be spent on debt service instead of on roads. In contrast, by law 100% of gas tax revenue is spent on transportation needs.

Gas tax opposition is another manifestation of the ideology of starving government to shrink it trumping practical solutions to meeting the public’s needs. 

A refreshing take on road funding by local elected officials who are more interested in serving their constituents than burnishing images as anti-tax warriors can be found in the opinion piece on this week’s Ozaukee Press op-ed page written by the directors of organizations representing the state’s counties, municipalities and towns.

Under the headline “Forget ideology and politics—just fix Wisconsin transportation,” the writers draw attention to the burden the state’s deteriorating roads are putting on communities and the physical and economic well being of their citizens.

Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb confirmed the size of that burden last week when he told the Legislature that under the governor’s borrowing plan the number of roads in poor condition would double in the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, the benefit of putting to use the perfectly accurate math that proves that a few pennies in added gas tax would raise millions to put roads in good condition remains locked away by anti-tax zealots who consider it heresy.

 
Privatizers target public schools PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 07 December 2016 17:14

It is all but certain that attempts will be made in the next four years to privatize Social Security and Medicare. Look for public schools to be added in some way to that privatizing to-do list.

The person Donald Trump has chosen to be the next U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is a crusader empowered by her family’s vast wealth who is bent on changing public education as America knows it by diverting funding from public schools to voucher and charter schools.

The nomination makes the egalitarian American imperative of universal education more vulnerable than ever to the forces of politics and ideology.

The ideology is all too familiar. Like those who want the private sector to take over the essential safety nets of Social Security and Medicare, the adherents of public school privatization want free-market organizations to take charge of education.

Wisconsin residents have seen plenty of this as the Legislature, following Gov. Scott Walker’s lead, has cut public school funding while steadily increasing the amount of taxpayer money given to voucher and charter schools.

Ozaukee Press readers were exposed to a novel justification for this short-changing of public schools in a recent letter to the editor from state Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville). Stroebel wrote that taxpayers of Ozaukee County and the rest of his district should be thankful that state education money is being spent on voucher schools in Milwaukee because without those schools the state would have to send more aid to the Milwaukee public school system.

“The money has to come from somewhere,” Stroebel wrote, “in this case local school aid.”

No, it does not have to come from local school aid. The state’s obligation to fund public education is not supposed to be some sort of zero-sum game in which one school district’s gain is another’s loss. All public school districts deserve a fair share of state education aid regardless of how much tax money the Legislature sends to private schools.

Wisconsin’s public schools have suffered some of the deepest cuts in state education spending in the nation. Meanwhile, taxpayer funding for voucher students in Wisconsin has increased by 14%.

School privatization zealots don’t seem to understand, or refuse to face, the fact that the institution of public education is strongly supported, in fact admired, by the American public as an essential function of a democratic society.

That was proven in Wisconsin’s November election in which 88% of 55 school district referendums were approved by voters—voters who agreed to pay higher property taxes for the betterment of their public schools.

That astonishing number of referendums—totalling more than $800 million for facilities and operational spending—needed to keep schools functioning effectively is a clear indication of the financial squeeze put on public schools by the combination of reduced state aid and state-mandated limits on local tax levies.

Even some of the most devoted proponents of public education agree that school choice, in the form of charter schools managed by responsible nonprofit organizations and well-run non-public schools whose students qualify for tax-supported vouchers to pay for tuition, should have a place in the education mix. 

That place, however, should not be created at the expense of public schools.

There is no dearth of success stories about individual charter and voucher schools that have excelled in inspiring children to learn. Yet promoters of choice schools have generally oversold their ability to improve education overall, even in cities where public education has struggled.

The most notorious example is the city of Detroit, where education privatizing advocates persuaded officials to allow wide-open competition by for-profit choice schools to educate the city’s children. The result of what has been described as a Wild West of cutthroat competition was academic achievement worse than that of underfunded public schools.

One of the architects of that disaster was Betsy DeVos, the soon-to-be secretary of education.

 
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