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Streets are not just for cars and trucks PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 01 April 2015 19:48

Belgium should resist pressure to add parking to its new Main Street at the expense of space for sidewalks and trees

The Village of Belgium is about to get a new main street. It would be a shame if it were designed like an old main street, providing extravagant space for motor vehicles at the expense of the convenience of pedestrians and bicycle riders and community aesthetics.

    A preliminary plan presented at a public informational meeting last week avoids that mistake by eliminating parking spaces on the north side of the street to allow for wide sidewalks and a green terrace with space for abundant trees.

    Some of the citizens at the meeting, however,  called for changing the plan to include parking on both sides of the street for its entire length. Village officials should not let this happen.

     Small towns across the country have had to live for generations with main business streets designed in an era when parking space was considered sacred. Gradually it has dawned on communities that downtown street design must address much more than the needs of motor vehicles.

    Putting parking spaces on both sides of Belgium’s new Main Street would come at the expense of other space—space for walking and biking and trees—and would compromise the safety of the bike lanes that are required on both sides of the street.

    More is expected of the new street than to provide convenient parking and a quick drive through the heart of town. It must also be appealing for people who prefer to walk, with wide, shaded sidewalks and safe crosswalks.

    This is important for dwellers of Belgium—which has been acquiring new residents at a faster rate than other small villages in Ozaukee County—and for the growing number of visitors attracted to the community. With the Ozaukee Interurban Trail passing through the downtown and Harrington Beach State Park located just down the road, many of the visitors will be folks who appreciate a community whose main commercial street shows consideration for walkers and bikers.

    Being able to park within a few steps of one’s destination is hardly an inalienable right. On-street parking places are hard to find in many communities small and large. Drivers cope. Commerce goes on.

    A prettier downtown is one of the expected, and welcome, results of rebuilding streets that have aged beyond their useful lives, such as Belgium’s Main Street, and the village should be able to look forward to some satisfying aesthetic improvements.

    These include underground utility lines. There will no doubt be sticker shock, given the history of utility companies overcharging communities for burying the wires (ask Fredonia and Port Washington), but the village shouldn’t miss this opportunity to cleanse the sky over its main street of unsightly poles and wires.

    Village President Rich Howells’ comments at the meeting about plans to plant trees in the green terrace that will be created (assuming north-side parking is not added) were encouraging.

    On the other hand, comments about trees by the spokesman for the company retained as the design consultant for the street project were disconcerting. Project manager Tom Lanser said the existing trees along the street would have to be cut down because they will likely die soon due to the stress of the street construction.

    Mature trees are too precious to be cut down on the say-so of a highway builder. That decision should only be made by a certified arborist. Surely some of the stately trees along Main Street can be saved.

    Saving some trees makes sense. Saving parking places that usurp space needed for trees and sidewalks doesn’t.

Keep the market free – no tax money for Bucks PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 19:42

The Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise is a profitable business that should not expect charity from taxpayers in funding a new arena

The taxpayers of Wisconsin should pay a large part of the cost of a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

    That is an utterly absurd statement, yet a number of people, including the governor, state legislators, officials and business leaders of Milwaukee and the owners of the Bucks are repeating it with no joke intended.

    There are good reasons it should be taken as a joke:

    The Milwaukee Bucks National Basketball Association franchise is a private, for-profit business, with emphasis on the word “profit.” In less than a year, the team’s new owners have already made $50 million on their investment. They bought the franchise for $550 million; today it’s worth $600 million, according to Forbes magazine.

    The team’s owners have offered to pay only $150 million of the estimated $500 million cost of a new arena. Lack of the means to pay for the building in which to operate their business is not the reason. Among the wealthy group of investors who own the Bucks are two hedge-fund billionaires, Jamie Dinan and Marc Lasry, who are on the Forbes magazine list of the 400 richest Americans, with net worths of $2.4 billion and $1.9 billion respectively.

    Politicians who invoke the sanctity of the free market when justifying government cutbacks are saying that in this case it’s perfectly all right for government to interfere in the market and have taxpayers subsidize the arena that the Bucks’ free-market-capitalist owners need for their business.

    These include Gov. Scott Walker, who has proposed that the state borrow $220 million to help pay for the arena, and legislators who think that will amount to a bit too much debt, but are suggesting that the state will somehow be able to come up with at least $100 million.

    Yes, this sounds like a joke, but no one is laughing because cities and states across the country have fallen for it, leaving taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars. Since 1985, more than $17 billion has been raised with tax-exempt bonds—the kind Gov. Walker has proposed issuing—to subsidize professional sports facilities.

    Investors who buy the bonds don’t pay taxes on the interest they receive, but taxpayers have to pay the interest and repay the principal. With the tax-exempt bonds, not just local taxpayers, but all American taxpayers, end up subsidizing the facilities. The Treasury Department says bonds for sports facilities have cost the federal government $542 million in the past decade, and is proposing barring their use.

    In its proposal, the department said funding pro stadiums and arenas with tax-exempt bonds has “shifted more of the costs and risks from the private owners to local residents and taxpayers in general.”

    Walker’s proposal calls for paying the bonds’ interest and principal with income tax revenue paid to the state by NBA players. This doesn’t make the subsidy some sort of free money—the players’ income tax payments diverted to the arena would be revenue the state would not have to support services for its citizens.

    The whole exercise is based on the premise that if the Bucks don’t get a new arena, they’ll leave Milwaukee, dealing an economic blow to the city and the state.

    The premise might be half valid. The NBA has threatened to take over the team and pull it out of Wisconsin if a new arena isn’t built. That could happen. The NBA is powerful enough to be ruthless. It thrives on television revenue. If Milwaukee doesn’t come through with a new venue, it would be happy to shop the Bucks around for a bigger market.

    The part about the big blow to the economy, however, is dubious.

    In study after study, economists agree government subsidies for sports do not pay off in economic benefit. One of them, Dennis Coates, a University of Maryland economist who specializes in the pro sports business, put it succinctly to the Wall Street Journal: By subsidizing sports facilities “you’re not going to get income growth; you’re not going to get tax growth; you’re not going to get employment growth.”

    We don’t blame the power structure of Milwaukee for pushing for a new arena. It would be a shame if the Bucks left town, an affront to the city’s pride and prestige and an insult to the fans who have supported the team through thick and thin for decades.

    But preventing that is not the responsibility of taxpayers. It is the responsibility of some of Milwaukee’s newest corporate citizens, the owners of the Bucks.

    It’s time for these masters of the financial universe, these bold investment buccaneers, to exercise the prerogatives of the free market and pay for the building that houses their business—like the rest of the folks competing in the free market do.

Kill the ethanol tax PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 15:41

Bad on all counts, the ethanol mandate deserves death at the hands of Congress now because it takes money out of the wallets of American families

Here’s a head-scratcher for you: A few politicians are still defending a government mandate that takes money out of the wallets of American families, damages the environment and sets back efforts to feed the hungry people of the world. How can this be?

    Here’s a clue: It’s a matter of location. If a politician is in Iowa, it’s apparently OK to support the ethanol mandate. We learned that from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who announced when in that state recently that he now favors the federal government biofuel requirement that he had long opposed.

     No head-scratching needed here. Walker was in Iowa looking for votes as a Republican presidential candidate. Iowa grows a lot of corn used for making ethanol and is the country’s largest ethanol producer, so it is not a good place for a politician to be telling the ugly truths about a costly and useless government mandate.

    Elsewhere not even political expediency can justify support for forcing ethanol on American drivers. The mandate that now requires 13 billion gallons of corn ethanol to be added to the gasoline supply each year was imposed in 2005 with the express purposes of reducing dependence on imported oil and protecting the environment. It is no longer needed for the first and has failed at the second.

     America is on the verge of becoming the world’s biggest oil producer. It doesn’t need to turn food into fuel to reduce the amount of fossil fuel it imports. As for the environment, the process of ethanol production demands so much fossil fuel that using the product accounts for no significant net reduction in carbon emissions.

    It’s not just that ethanol is no help to the environment—it actually hurts it. The rise in corn prices caused by the government-mandated demand for ethanol has led to the conversion of grassland, wetland and fields used for crops less damaging to the soil than corn for the production of the heavily fertilized raw material of ethanol.

    The fundamentally flawed concept of using food to power automobiles has had a damaging impact on the supply of food needed to sustain human beings. With about 40% of the American corn crop diverted to ethanol production, corn prices have risen, driving up the cost of food in the U.S., while hampering hunger relief efforts in famine-ravaged countries.

    Though the ranks of defenders of ethanol have shrunk to a stubborn few, Congress has not been able to get its act together to kill the mandate. It might help if the word “mandate” were changed to “tax.” That should get the attention of representatives who have expressed hatred for taxes in any form. Besides, it would be accurate.

    The ethanol tax extracts $10 billion a year from American motorists, according to Robert Bryce, author of “The Hidden Corn Ethanol Tax,” a report issued by the Manhattan Institute.

     Bryce bases his calculation on the fact that gasoline containing 10% ethanol yields 3% to 4% fewer miles per gallon than pure unleaded gasoline, but costs more at the pump. The result is that $10 billion tax levy, which penalizes the average driver an added $47 a year in fuel costs.

    What will it take to get Congress to put an end to this nonsense? A taxpayer uprising might help, but unlike the Boston Tea Party, pouring the object of the tax in the water is not an option in this case.

    Still, optimists may find some cause for hope in the fact that a respected bipartisan group of three senators and three House members have introduced legislation to repeal the ethanol mandate.

    Save for a few representatives beholden to interests enriched by ethanol in their states, there is no excuse for anyone in Congress not to support that effort.

    Speaking of excuses, a burning desire to be endorsed by the Iowa presidential nomination caucuses doesn’t cut it as an acceptable reason for a governor who has built his resume as a crusading conservative by condemning federal mandates in health care, transportation and education to now declare that the ethanol mandate is perfectly acceptable.

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