Before we get to Patrick McIlheran's opinion piece, The Price of Ignoring the Price in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, we should check with our friends at Wisconsin Manufacturing & Commerce (WMC).
Here is the WMC Manufacturers Survey from 2006:
McIlheran attended what he called a 'good government Public Policy Forum,' in Milwaukee, or at least he had something to say about it:
Taxes, of course: These were CEOs, so within minutes someone mentioned that ranking about 40th or so on tax climate doesn't help. Debate the criteria all you want, but the people deciding where the plant goes think they're valid.
Yup, we are still getting this line about taxes, even though WMC's own studies show that taxes are at the bottom of the list - right down there with that other phony issue, tort reform (lawsuit abuse).
McIlheran goes on to address another issue, and this is one that I believe is a legitimate concern: attitude.
Unexpected, however, was how blunt these business leaders were about the underlying attitude..."It's the tone of the place, the tone of the political economy," said John Shiely, head of Briggs & Stratton.... Why expand where the local culture is hostile to the creating of wealth? "It's the vestige of the old Milwaukee Socialist ethic," he says.
There is no question that there is anti-business sentiment in Wisconsin and that it is a serious problem. As I have observed, there are some people who are going to oppose anything, no matter how beneficial it is for the community, if business is behind it.
Changing the anti-business attitude is going to take two efforts. Those of us on the political left are going to have to deal with some of our own.
But the business community needs to do the same. When WMC constantly calls Wisconsin a 'tax hell,' misrepresents the nature of taxation in our state, and then works to shift the tax burden from businesses to residential property owners, they build significant resentment. It should also be noted that conservative voters, whipped up by right-wing talk radio, are as anti-business as their counterparts on the left when it comes time to forging business-public sector partnerships.
Leaders in the Wisconsin business community must stand up to WMC and tell them to put a muzzle on it.
As for "vestige of the old Milwaukee Socialist ethic," it was during those one hundred years that Milwaukee became a mighty industrial giant. Fairness, equitable taxation, worker protections, and industrial growth all occurred simultaneously. And arguments that in this new international economy we are going to have duplicate working conditions in China are not going to cut it.
Fortunately, there are regional alliances of business, government and organized labor who are ignoring the WMC party line and working to make Wisconsin work.
Milwaukee 7- The Milwaukee7, launched in September 2005, was formed to create a regional, cooperative economic development platform for the seven counties of southeastern Wisconsin.
The New North - Their mission is to harness and promote the region's resources, talents and creativity for the purposes of sustaining and growing the regional economy.
Thrive - Madison Region "The eight-county Madison Region of Wisconsin is the ideal place for your business and your family to thrive. Our unique geographical placement is at the apex of the world's largest freshwater resource (the Great Lakes Basin) and some of the richest farmland in the world. This natural abundance shapes our cultures, our communities, and our economic drivers."
Did anyone else attend this conference? All that came out of it was whining and complaining? There was no recognition of the positive things being done by Governor Doyle, M 7, and other leaders?
End note: please send me links to the other regional economic development partnerships and I will post them here.
Update 11:00 am: Yesterday Whallah!, the all seeing, all knowing mother of all blogs, posted: It Taxes The Mind, jumping all of us on the tax issue.