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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

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Racine Journal Times, May 20

It's time for WEDC to stop promoting bad behavior

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has, nearly from its inception early in Gov. Scott Walker's first term, given us reasons to write editorials. None of them have been good: There's been a pattern of woefully insufficient oversight of the use of taxpayer money to loan to businesses, both in whether the businesses were complying with the terms of the loan agreement and, if payments were past due, pressing the businesses to pay what they owed the WEDC, and by extension, Wisconsin taxpayers.

Now we have the results of an investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal, which has found that Walker's top aides and a powerful lobbyist pressed for a taxpayer-funded loan in 2011 to a financially struggling Milwaukee construction company that lost the state $500,000, created no jobs and raised questions about where the money went.

The extraordinary steps by the aides and lobbyist led the WEDC in 2011 to award a $500,000 unsecured loan to Building Committee Inc., owned by William Minahan, for a proposed project to retrofit bank and credit union buildings for energy efficiency.

The State Journal found no evidence Minahan received financial assistance from either the federal government of from the administration of Gov. Jim Doyle, Walker's predecessor. Only the WEDC, the public-private partnership Walker's administration created to replace the state Department of Commerce, saw fit to give Minahan and BCI taxpayer money.

The loan, which was not repaid, is one of several agency awards that state auditors have questioned since Walker created the agency in 2011. Last year, WEDC, the state's flagship job-creation agency, took the unusual step of suing BCIin an attempt to get the money back.

The failed deal was made at the urging of then-Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, who wanted WEDC to provide a forgivable loan of $4.3 million, more than eight times the size of the loan eventually issued, according to Paul Jadin, former CEO of WEDC.

"I wanted to assist the company to the extent that they qualified given that it had such a strong endorsement from Secretary Huebsch," Jadin said.

We're left to wonder why BCI received such a strong endorsement. Longtime salesman El Sellers said the state of BCI was "very shaky" during fall 2011 when the WEDC awarded the loan.

"Most of the people there — 90 percent of the employees who were left — were on half-pay, and they had been on half-pay for a long time — almost two years," Sellers said. "The company credit card would work one day and not the next. Expense checks would stop coming."

In mid-2011, subcontractors on the site of a new Tulsa Teachers Credit Union building demanded a total of $131,800 for work that BCI had not paid for.

At least the WEDC didn't give as much to BCI as then-Secretary Huebsch was recommending. The state could have been out $4.3 million instead of just $500,000, which is bad enough.

CNBC commentator Rick Santelli kick-started the tea party movement with his on-air rant from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Feb. 19, 2009, in which he called for a "Chicago Tea Party." Visibly upset over a federal bailout of homeowners, he declared: "Government is promoting bad behavior ... Do we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages?"

The WEDC, in the form of issuing a $500,000 loan to a troubled business when no one else would, is promoting bad behavior. It is well past time for the taxpayers of Wisconsin to stop subsidizing the losers' bad business decisions.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 19

Coordinate efforts to curb gun violence

As the toll from shootings continues to increase in Milwaukee — including 11 people injured in seven separate shootings over the weekend — state Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd is asking the community to not forget about the grass-roots efforts in the neighborhoods most affected by the violence.

And she's right. Those efforts are critical; if neighbors don't work together to take back their neighborhoods block by block those neighborhoods have little chance of becoming safer places. That work is happening in many city neighborhoods; Harris Dodd pointed to several such efforts in a meeting with the Editorial Board on Monday, especially the "Blueprint for a Safe Milwaukee" that emerged from a Unite Milwaukee Summit meeting in March put together by the state senator and a number of other volunteers and organizations. Other such efforts include the annual Ceasefire Sabbath event this past Sunday and the Peace Project by Walnut Way, a nonprofit organization that was known for creating orchards on vacant city lots and promoting health and wellness but has become a leading force in the anti-violence effort.

But what's also needed is better coordination between all such efforts at the neighborhood level as well as with efforts by police, local elected officials and the state Legislature, including tougher laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. As we've said in several recent editorials, a coordinated strategy that encompasses neighbors, churches, police, local and state officials, nonprofits and businesses has the best chance of curbing the violence that has raised homicide numbers to three times what they were a year ago.

The March summit included an impressive list of local groups, officials and residents — including the 30th Street Industrial Corridor Corp., Running Rebels, Ald. Ashanti Hamilton, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Safe & Sound, church leaders, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Washington Park Senior Center and representatives of the Milwaukee Police Department.

The next step should be a summit called jointly by the governor and mayor, including all of the above groups as well as federal law enforcement authorities and County Executive Chris Abele and Sheriff David E. Clarke Jr. Their goal should be to pave the way to an overall strategy of reducing violent crime and better coordination among the many separate groups doing good work.

The police can't do this alone, nor can the city administration, nor can neighbors acting on their own. We wish Dodd all the best in her continuing effort to make the blueprint a reality. But that is unlikely to happen unless everyone, from the governor to the block watch captain is on board and on the same page. It's time for all of our public officials to accept their role in leading the way toward a safer Milwaukee.


Kenosha News, May 20

Welcome to Wisconsin, speed limit 70

In a surprise move Wednesday, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced that the section of I-94 through Kenosha County will be one of the areas where the new top speed limit of 70 mph will apply.

The state Department of Transportation said it will post the section of I-94 from the Illinois border to the Milwaukee County border with the 70 mph limit, along with numerous other parts of the state. More than 700 miles of roadway are expected to have the 70 mph speed limit.

Most observers expected that southeastern Wisconsin, the most heavily populated part of the state, would not be considered suitable for the higher speed limit, but a spokesman for the DOT said the relatively long distance between exits in Racine and Kenosha counties makes the road qualify for the higher speed limits. The new speed limit will take effect when the signs are posted.

Until Wednesday, when Gov. Scott Walker signed the law allowing the higher speed limit, Wisconsin had been alone among states in the Midwest for having a top speed limit of 65. Opponents of higher speed limits often cite safety concerns, but those concerns haven't been sufficient to persuade any other states in the region to reduce their top speed limits.

Proponents of the higher speed limit said it would mean more drivers would be traveling at close to the same speed, which would make the roads safer. That will only be true if the higher speed limit prompts some of the slower drivers to increase their speed while those who drive 75 mph now continue to drive 75, not 80. Some studies indicate that's the way drivers behave.

We welcome the change but remind drivers that weather conditions sometimes dictate reduced speeds. The key, no matter the speed limit, is for drivers to be alert.

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