What follows is a guest blog by Saul Newton. This was originally posted on JSOnline.com but has been reposted here at the request of the author.
If Democratic politicians told Assembly Speaker Robin Vos that because of his political affiliation his business would not qualify for tax credits or any other state aid, Vos would be outraged. However when Boss Vos publicly shakes down a business owner, it is just the cost of doing business in Wisconsin.
After four separate election cycles in four years centering mainly on economic development and job growth, Wisconsin voters have heard a lot of lofty rhetoric about making Wisconsin “Open for Business” and continuing the Wisconsin “comeback.” With discussion of a new arena in downtown Milwaukee, the state has a unique and prominent role to play in the proposal. However, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has made clear that his only criteria for any state aid to any business is their political support.
Following the sale of the Milwaukee Bucks to Wes Edens and Marc Lasry, the National Basketball Association included as a condition of sale that a new arena be constructed to house the team. If a new arena was not constructed the league could buy back the team, potentially resulting in Milwaukee losing the Bucks as our professional basketball franchise.
In the subsequent months ideas have circulated and rumors spread about the specifics of constructing a new arena. The discussion about a new arena involves business, community, political, and financial leaders. Some details, such as the likely location of the new arena , have been released to the public. However, with an expected price tag of upwards of $500 million, the financing of the new arena remains very much an open question.
A substantial amount has already been secured from team ownership, private investors, and former team owner Herb Kohl. However, there will almost certainly be a need for some sort of state funding as part of a larger financing deal . Enter GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
Appearing on the Sunday morning talk show UpFront with Mike Gousha, Vos said , “As I said this week, having one of the Bucks new owners go and greet Barack Obama on the tarmac in the middle of the Mary Burke campaign probably wasn’t the wisest decision.”
Vos has indeed made numerous similar statements that he will with hold state aid for the arena because of Marc Lasry’s support for Democratic political candidates. To be clear, Lasry has never made any contribution to any Wisconsin Democrat. He is not a partisan politician. However he has donated to national candidates, and that is enough of an insult to Speaker Vos to hold a massive development project hostage.
Vos is threatening to hold up any public financing for a new arena as a way to send a message to Wisconsin’s business community. Vos’s message is, “Pay up.”
Vos and his minions have seized complete control of state government by distorting the views and votes of Democrats, labeling them as “anti-business. Less than 24 hours after the polls closed, Vos was giving interviews in which he publicly shook down investors and developers using tactics that would make William Tweed blanch .
It should be pointed out that Vos has no issue with businesses being politically involved, as long as they are involved for Republicans.
Vos has never spoken out about Jon Hammes, the major real estate developer leading the redevelopment of the Park East freeway in Milwaukee, and his donations to Republican candidates and conservative causes. Vos has been silent on the millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Republicans from recipients of state aid from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Vos was too happy to lead the charge in favor of a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin after the company donated $700,000 to Republican candidates.
The only difference for Vos is those parties donated to the right side.
Vos’s actions are petty, they are juvenile, and they are disgraceful. Not only does this seriously damage Wisconsin’s image for other businesses potentially considering Wisconsin as a state to expand their business, but also it is transparent pay to play politics. Our business leaders deserve a better partner in state government than someone who imposes a political litmus test on all state aid to business.
The debate over plans to build a new arena in Milwaukee is understandable. The implications of the eventual plan are far reaching, and will impact the city of Milwaukee and the region for decades. There are many legitimate issues on all sides, and finding a way forward will require compromise, collaboration, and respect. There is no room for political extortion. There is no room for Vos’s petty games.
Boss Vos crossed the line. Every Milwaukee elected official, community leader, and business leader should denounce him, and his attempts to undermine Milwaukee for his own political ends.