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Wisconsin has to make this risky bet PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 August 2017 17:28

The governor and a coterie of state officials are on their way to the Potawatami Casino craps table to place a $3 billion bet with taxpayers’ money.
    That’s not literally true, but casino gambling is an apt metaphor for the enormous bet the state government is placing on Foxconn Electronics.
    The bet is indeed for $3 billion and the money is coming from Wisconsin taxpayers. Citizens are putting it up in the form of tax exemptions for the company and payoffs in cash directly from their pockets. The odds of winning may be better than craps, but the bet is still risky.
    Nonetheless, this bet should be made. Wisconsin has to roll the dice.
    It has to precisely because the stakes are so high. As they say about big-bucks lotteries, you can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket. The state is buying a ticket because the payoff if Foxconn keeps its promise to build a mega manufacturing facility in southeast Wisconsin is expected to be tens of thousands of jobs at Foxconn and businesses that will grow to support the Chinese electronics maker.
    The stakes aren’t just economic; they’re cultural as well. Wisconsin is a long-suffering casualty of the rust-belt wars, its economy and its society depleted by the wholesale loss of manufacturing jobs. You can see the battle scars in Port Washington in the acres of abandoned manufacturing plants.
    The loss of these jobs was more than an economic blow. It was also a blow to the esteem of workers for whom skilled blue-collar employment was a marker of success that meant home ownership, college educations for their children and status as contributing members of their communities.
    The Foxconn initiative can help restore the vitality of blue-collar employment by providing jobs making not widgets that rust, but liquid crystal display panels for computers and TVs, with the high-tech training that goes with them. Other electronics companies could well follow.
    The bet is worth making, but state senators and representatives who are being asked to pass legislation enabling the Foxconn deal better be going into it with their eyes open. First, they need to assume that the payoff has been exaggerated.
    That’s a safe assumption because it was announced in Washington with unrestrained hyperbole by the exaggerator in chief, President Donald Trump, and  Gov. Scott Walker, a re-election candidate desperate for a bragging right after falling far short of his job-creation campaign promises, and by Foxconn’s CEO, who was motivated to make extravagant promises to drive up state incentives.
    Still, even if only a significant part of what has been ballyhooed—13,000 Foxconn jobs with an annual payroll of $700 million, 22,000 more jobs at supporting companies, 10,000 construction jobs for four years building a plant three times the size of the Pentagon—comes to pass, it could be worth the gifts the state is offering.
    Legislators need to understand, however, that  realizing the potential benefits is not as easy as simply giving away money. The Foxconn initiative adds new urgency to the state government’s stumbling attempts to fund road building and maintenance. Imagine the transportation needs  of a manufacturing campus that will cover more than a square mile of land somewhere near Kenosha and Racine.
    The deal also should push legislators to reverse their shortsighted effort to progressively squeeze state funding for the University of Wisconsin System. UW campuses are going to need resources to turn out more mechanical, industrial and electrical engineers to meet the needs of Foxconn and other high-tech manufacturers.
    And most important, the Legislature must not cave on environmental protection standards. Already there is talk from the governor’s office of exempting Foxconn from providing environmental impact statements and relaxing other regulations that protect the state’s water, air and land. These resources should not be on the bargaining table. A gift of $3 billion is enough. Giving away some of the health of the state’s environment is too much.
    However it goes, Wisconsin’s Foxconn bet will be risky, but state elected officials need to work to improve the odds.
    Then roll the dice.

An appreciation of summer in the lake-effect zone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 03 August 2017 15:44

Denizens of eastern Wisconsin have been heard to wistfully wonder why their forebears chose to settle beside a body of water whose cold vapors often cancel spring and replace it with an extension of winter that can last well into May.
    They got their answer last weekend when the weather along the Lake Michigan littoral might well have ranked as the most delightful on the entire planet. The heat of a summer sun shining unimpeded through a perfect blue sky was cooled just enough by a lake breeze that, thanks to water temperatures in the 70s, was refreshing rather than chilling.
    In Port Washington, the glories of summer in the lake-effect zone brought a joyous convergence of residents and visitors to a downtown thrumming with activity.
    For residents, part of the reason their city’s downtown lakefront area is such a fine place to celebrate summer is that some of their tax dollars are being put to good use there. This is evident in the extraordinary necklace of public parks that embraces the water, from Upper Lake and Veterans to Rotary and Coal Dock parks at the harbor.
    At Coal Dock park, the long-needed installation of a guardrail along its splendid promenade made the deep-water dock a safer but still stunning vantage point from which to appreciate an ever-changing nautical panorama.
     Across the harbor, the north breakwater this summer became a recreational phenomenon. An improvement campaign that began with a desperate (and ultimately successful) attempt by city officials to persuade the federal government to shore up the failing breakwater evolved into a project that added amenities that transformed the protective arm of the harbor into an easy-to-negotiate, half-mile-long walkway over the water. On calm-weather days, people by the hundreds join a virtual breakwater parade to experience Lake Michigan up close and behold the pretty city on its shore from the pierhead lighthouse.
    As important as those tax-supported features are, the fact is that much of what makes summer in downtown Port Washington so enjoyable is provided by the private sector. Let’s count the ways.
    The tremendously popular farmers market on Main Street, a Saturday morning ritual enjoyed as much as a social gathering as for its abundant offerings of fresh produce, is funded by Port Main Street from fees assessed on downtown business and property owners.
    A number of the events that enliven the summer, including the Race the Harbor bike races, Pirate Fest and the Paramount Music Festival, are funded in part by the Port Washington Tourism Council, as are the visits by the tall ship Denis Sullivan, using revenue from the room tax paid by the city’s two hotels and two bed-and-breakfast businesses.
    Private sponsors and organizations fund two big entertainment events, Fish Day and Lionsfest, as well the Saturday beer gardens in Lake Park. Even the city’s Fourth of July parade is paid for by business sponsors.
    Individual businesses are the mainstay of the downtown’s summer appeal, and shops and restaurants are busy with tourist traffic. Crowded sidewalk dining areas lend the city the atmosphere of a thriving resort town.
    A lively entrepreneurial spirit adds to the vibrancy. Ozaukee Press readers learned in a front page feature story last week that John Reichert, sculptor and co-proprietor of the Chocolate Chisel, has turned his creative energy to making exotically flavored ice cream in the Grand Avenue chocolate shop.
    On the opposite end of the downtown, award-winning brewmaster Adam Draeger has begun the process of turning the American Legion clubhouse on Lake Street into a brewpub.
    On top of all the other good news about fun in the sun in downtown Port, we can add the assurance of a plentiful supply of two fundamental elements of the rites of summer—ice cream and beer.

The wrong health debate PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 26 July 2017 19:41

Congress could have avoided the antipathy of the American people over its increasingly farcical attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act if it was having the right health care debate.
    The wrong debate, underway now mostly behind closed doors, is about how to pay for health care—or more accurately, how to limit what government pays for health care for its citizens.
    The right debate would be about how to bring American health care up to the standard set by other well-endowed nations. It is an embarrassment, with tragic overtones, that this country that leads the world in so many ways is a straggler when it comes to the health of its people.
    The U.S. ranks 42nd among all countries in human longevity, according to the World Factbook compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency.
    The rate of infant mortality in the U.S. is worse than that of any industrialized country. American babies are twice as likely to die in their first year as babies in a number of European countries.
    American women are far more likely to die in childbirth than women in other developed nations, according the World Health Organization.
    The countries that lead the U.S. in health have in common that care is provided through national health systems paid for by taxpayers.
    The U.S. doesn’t need comparisons with other countries to see how national health care works in keeping people healthier. Its own limited version of so-called single-payer health coverage—Medicare—demonstrates it.
     After Americans qualify for Medicare at age 65, life expectancy improves to near that of European nations.
    Medicaid, another limited form of national health coverage, has proved successful in keeping Americans too poor to afford health insurance healthier. Yet one of the proposals in the ACA repeal effort is to reduce federal Medicaid spending by $772 billion over the next decade.
    Those seeking to weaken federal Medicaid say the states will fill the gap. Not only is there no assurance, or even likelihood, of that happening, some states are hostile to the very concept of Medicaid. Wisconsin, unfortunately, is an example.
    Here Gov. Scott Walker is pushing to require people applying for Medicaid to undergo drug testing—urinate in a cup to qualify for health care.
    In an op-ed piece in last week’s Ozaukee Press that should be read by the members of Congress now mired in the wrong health debate, John Torinus of West Bend wrote, “Every health plan, whether funded by a company, by the government or through an insurance policy, should provide proactive primary care.”
    Torinus is a nationally recognized expert on corporate health insurance programs, but his point that providing the means to staying healthy is the key to a healthier populace and more affordable health care applies to government programs as much as to those provided by employers.
    Universal proactive primary care is a fundamental feature of the world’s most effective national health programs. In the U.S., it is a luxury many cannot afford. Until Congress has the right health debate, that won’t change.

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