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No more taxes for sports ‘amenities’ PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 14:11

Residents of Ozaukee and other counties who are still on the hook for more than $100 million to pay for Miller Park should not be taxed  for a new basketball arena

You say a privately owned professional basketball team wants a new place to play and the public should be taxed by the state to pay for it? Are you nuts?

    Only a visitor recently arrived in Ozaukee County from a distant planet would think that’s crazy.

    Taxing the public to pay for sports facilities that enrich team owners is common in America. Ask anyone living in the seven counties, including Ozaukee, whose residents have paid more than $400 million to build and enhance Miller Park in Milwaukee through a sales tax surcharge enacted by the Wisconsin Legislature and are on the hook for at least $100 million more before the tax is retired.

    That is, if it’s retired. Trial balloons have been launched suggesting that after the Brewers’ stadium is paid for the tax should live on to fund a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

    The Ozaukee County Board last week took a potshot at those balloons by passing a resolution opposing any new regional sales tax. The Racine County Board passed a similar resolution in August.

    Those were good shots, but probably not enough to prevent future flights of schemes to involve the public in paying part of the cost of a replacement for the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Expect to hear a lot of talk about the Bucks leaving Milwaukee if they don’t get a new building.

    The Bucks have a generous and fair-minded owner in Herb Kohl, but he won’t be the team owner forever. The National Basketball Association has already butted in by lobbying for a new Bucks facility. The NBA’s deputy commissioner toured the 25-year-old Bradley Center recently and found it seriously wanting. “It doesn’t have the kinds of amenities we need,” he complained.

    Sports franchises’ need for amenities has cost taxpayers dearly in cities across the country. In every case, the rationale has been that taxpayers benefit from the economic development spurred by big-name sports teams, so they should help pay for their stadiums and arenas.

    The problem with this reasoning is that stadiums are not good financial investments for taxpayers, according to numerous studies. In the book “Sports, Jobs and Taxes,” public finance experts Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist say it plainly: “No recent facility appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment.”

    Analyses of cities with publicly financed sports venues have found no significant employment increases or economic growth in attributable to the facilities.

     In most cases, there is plenty of economic growth for team owners, however. When the Miller Park stadium taxing district was established in 1996, the value of the Milwaukee Brewers based on its stock price was $96 million. By 2012, a study by Forbes magazine found the team was worth $448 million. According to the magazine, the increase was a result of building Miller Park.

    If the economic growth argument doesn’t work for the cities in which the sports facilities are located, how can anyone say with a straight face, as was argued during the debate leading up to levying the stadium tax, that outlying counties such as Ozaukee benefit so much that their residents should help pay for the facility?

    Let’s wish the Bucks and Milwaukee well and hope the team stays and that somehow a way is found to provide the amenities the NBA wants so badly.

    Note: In lieu of tax money, these good wishes will be sent with a copy of the Ozaukee County Board’s no-tax resolution.

Lighten up on team nicknames PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 October 2013 14:28

Offensive American Indian team nicknames are as obvious as they are reprehensible, but the nickname police should lay off of those that merely imply respect

There is nothing subtle about offensive racial stereotyping. Everyone with a normal quotient of human sensibility knows it when they see it.

    Even so, some people and institutions, by dint of hair-splitting and arcane definition, seem compelled to discover it where it is not evident. Among them are some of the crusaders against American Indian nicknames for sports teams.

    The nickname police have been on their beats for years. Many of the monikers they have pressured schools to drop were innocuous or even respectful references to American Indians. Meanwhile, they’ve had no effect on some of the most obviously offensive team nicknames that continue to be flaunted. In the plains states, a number of high schools call their athletes “Savages.” In the NFL, the Washington, D.C. team offends on a national stage by refusing to retire the racially pejorative name “Redskins.”

     In 2010, Wisconsin became one of the few states to pass a law regulating school nicknames. Soon its Legislature may pass a law undoing that poorly drafted statute.

    It would be best if the state kept its hands off the nicknames schools choose for their sports teams, but Wisconsin couldn’t resist, so the new statute is needed to temper the overly stringent measure made law three years ago.

    Under the ridiculously low standard of the current law, a school district can be forced to change its team nickname if a single person complains. The burden of proof is on the district to show the name is not discriminatory. The Department of Public Instruction decides and has the power to order name changes.

    Under a bill introduced by Republicans in September, objections to nicknames would have to be accompanied by petitions signed by a number of residents equal to at least 10% of the students in the district. The complainant would have to prove the name promotes discrimination or stereotyping. The state Department of Administration would decide.

    The proposal is a reaction to the DPI’s order to the Mukwonago Area School District to stop using the sports nickname “Indians.”

     Mukwonago has defied the order on the sensible ground that the name does not discriminate. “Mukwonago” is a word from the language of the Potawatomi tribe. “Indian” remains a generally acceptable word for Native Americans. Where’s the offense?

    The Mukwonago nickname is akin to the Northern Ozaukee School District’s “Warriors,” though no one has complained about the NOSD team name. No one has reason to complain, because the term connotes nothing derogatory.

    On the contrary, such nicknames imply respect. There is no mystery as to why so many teams have adopted Indian names. Sports teams aspire to physical prowess, courage and determination, traits associated with American Indians throughout their history, be it triumphant or tragic.

    The variations on Indian-inspired nicknames that are offensive per se are obvious. Perhaps one day there will be enough public disgust to make them go away.

    But certainly society can tolerate, indeed cheer for, those that are meant to inspire athletes to demonstrate qualities found in this country’s historic perception of Native Americans. Long live the Braves, the Chiefs, the Chieftans, the Indians and the Warriors.

    Polls show American Indians are divided on the issue. Some see the nicknames as terms of respect, others take offense. Nonetheless, these are generic terms and no one owns them. Used as many schools and athletic organizations use them, they do not suggest racial discrimination, no matter how     the nickname police spin their meaning.

    The Legislature should pass the bill that fixes the 2010 law. The new law will still provide means to challenge questionable nicknames, but will apply reasonable standards.

Yes, county does belong in nursing home business PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 02 October 2013 14:19

With vote on additional investment in Lasata, County Board members should recommit to providing affordable care for the elderly

Should Ozaukee County be in the nursing home business?

    That question has been asked and answered a number of times. The answer has always been yes. It is the right answer.

    In 2008, after years of study and debate, the County Board voted to authorize construction of the Lasata Crossings assisted living facility adjacent to the Lasata Care Center nursing home in Cedarburg.

    “Loud and clear, we accepted the mission of Lasata and decided to be in the nursing home business,” said Cynthia Bock of Mequon, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, mincing no words about the sincerity of the county government’s commitment to services for the elderly.

    Yet when her committee voted this summer to recommend spending $10 million to build a facility on the Lasata campus where frail elderly people can live with assistance and to renovate the nursing home, the old argument that the county should not be providing services to the elderly in competition with private businesses resurfaced.

    In opposing the recommendation, committee member Richard Bauzenberger, also representing Mequon on the County Board, said, “There are a lot of people in Mequon who are asking why is the county in this business.” He asked for yet another study of the viability of the Lasata operation.

    What the critics of government involvement in caring for aging citizens don’t understand is that Ozaukee County is suited for the nursing home business precisely because it is not a business. The priority for businesses is profit.For the Lasata complex, the priority is meeting the needs of county residents facing the health challenges of old age.

    That is why, unlike many private elderly-care facilities, Lasata accepts as many residents who need Medicaid assistance to pay their nursing home fees as it has room for. More than half of Lasata’s residents are on Medicaid. The nursing home loses $55 a  day for each of them.

    This is an irresistible target for  people who buy into the shrink-government-at-all-costs mindset, even though the assisted living facility and independent senior living apartments added to the Lasata complex in recent years have balanced the books for the operation.

    The nursing home’s financial drag will be further offset by the proposed $10 million investment, which will include upgrades to make the nursing home more efficient, as well as new assisted-living units that will operate at a profit.

    Selling the Lasata’s unprofitable skilled nursing care facility to a private operator would be a betrayal of the philosophy that has guided the county’s services for the elderly—that the county has an obligation to provide affordable care for its oldest residents. Lasata has been a comforting presence for Ozaukee County families for nearly 50 years, often providing the only nearby option for families dependant  on Medicaid.

    The time for more studies is past. The County Board is expected to consider the Lasata expansion and improvement proposal this week. That vote should be viewed by supervisors as an opportunity for an emphatic recommitment to service for the county’s elderly.

     It’s easy for Lasata’s critics to make glib pronouncements about the availability of private nursing home services, but the fact is that many of those facilities refuse Medicaid recipients or limit the number of them they will serve. They may also be priced beyond the means of people who don’t qualify for assistance. None offers the priority for admittance to which Ozaukee County residents are now entitled at Lasata.

    The proposed new investment in Lasata makes fiscal and moral sense. Supervisors should vote for it confident in the rightness of the county’s commitment to its elderly citizens.

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