Does State Investing in Venture Capital Hurt Taxpayers?

For years, promoters of a new high-tech economy for Wisconsin pushed the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, or SWIB, to start investing some of its money in venture capital funds. The logic of these promoters was simple: Wisconsin needs to build a new economy with startup companies, which will lead to more employment and wealth for this state, but there is never enough venture capital to make the high-risk investments in these companies. And who is better positioned to do this than SWIB, with its mother lode of some $84 billion in total holdings. It is the 30th-largest public or…

Evaluating Abele for County Executive

Last week, I got an e-mail from Charlie Sykes asking this: “Have you removed your piece on Chris Abele from your website? If so, why?” He seemed quite eager to get his hands on the story.   Chris Abele. Back in February 2005, Milwaukee Magazine did a controversial, in-depth feature on Abele called “The Billionaire’s Son.” I was not working with the magazine back then, and for whatever reason, the story was never posted online. The feature has suddenly become quite newsworthy, given Abele’s decision to run for Milwaukee county executive, so we have now posted it here. The story…

Why the Division Over High-Speed Rail?

Not so long ago, there was a bipartisan consensus in favor of any infrastructure improvements for Wisconsin. Both business and labor, Republicans and Democrats, favored the building and expansion of the freeways. Airport or freight rail improvements, new phone or electrical connections – any infrastructure upgrades were assumed to be something that would improve the economy. But that consensus began to break down in the late 1970s, and the result can be seen today, in the dogmatic decision by Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker to reject the $810 million in federal funds to build a high-speed railroad. It was then-Assemblyman John…

State’s Sweetheart Deal for Barry Mandel

  North End project. It’s hard to imagine a real estate development with a more desirable location than Barry Mandel’s “North End” project. The complex is between North Water Street and the Milwaukee River, at East Pleasant Street, with great views of the Milwaukee River. Mandel has completed the first half, an 83-unit development, and has told people it is 100 percent leased. That’s as good as it gets. Yet Mandel has just been handed a huge $24.1 million loan by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, or WHEDA, to help him pay for the second phase of the…

The New Republicans?

It remains to be seen whether he will live up to his pledge, but Scott Walker promises to be a very different kind of Republican, one who will truly be a fiscal conservative. That’s actually a rather radical stand for a Republican. You could hear the old Republicans speaking in the voice of Rick Chandler, who last week floated the idea of adding an additional 2.5 percent sales tax in order to lower income and property taxes. The idea was quickly jumped on by conservative radio talker Charlie Sykes, who got a rapid-fire response from Walker aide John Hiller, who…

Paul Ryan’s Fiscal Foolishness

The ghost of Herbert Hoover is haunting certain Republican leaders and Wisconsin’s Republican congressman from Janesville, Rep. Paul Ryan. Hoover, of course, was famous for his solution to the Great Depression – cutting government spending – which just made the Depression worse. Now we have Republicans like Ryan objecting to the Federal Reserve’s new strategy to help the economy. The Fed has been aggressively lowering interest rates, given that the unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent. But interest rates have already dropped to nearly zero, so nothing further can be done on that front. Hence the Fed’s new strategy to…

Wisconsin Loves County Supervisors!

My vote for the most amusing story of last week was by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Don Behm, who reported that “the most efficient size of the Ozaukee County Board is 22 supervisors, perhaps 26 or 27 … or maybe even the current 31,” according to an analysis by the board’s special reorganization committee. Thanks so much for that definitive conclusion, Ozaukee County. If that sounds wishy-washy, consider Washington County, which rejected a plan to cut its size from 30 members to 15 back in 2007, but is now considering a proposal to drop to 23 members. No need to…

Myths About Feingold’s Defeat

It’s been just a week since Sen. Russ Feingold was defeated and already his loss has become the stuff of myth. Feingold, the courageous opponent of unregulated third-party spending, was a victim of the very evil he tried to defeat. He was “hoist on his own petard,” as UW-Milwaukee political science professor and ex-Wisconsin legislator Mordecai Lee told The New York Times. “Big Money” helped do him in, driving higher turnouts in “ultra-wealthy heavily Republican suburbs,” wrote liberal Roger Bybee in In These Times. The storyline is so irresistible, it had emerged even before the election, with a Washington Post…

Will Worst Legislator Win?

The 5th Senate District in Wisconsin is an ugly, vicious contest – with lots of negative ads – between incumbent Democrat Jim Sullivan and challenger Leah Vukmir. She is the incumbent Republican representative from the 14th Assembly District, which makes up one-third of Sullivan’s senate district. The race could be key to whether Republicans take over the state senate, where Democrats now hold a slim 18-15 advantage. Vukmir is the darling of talk radio and has often been a guest on the TV pundit shows of conservative talkers Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling (though the latter’s show disappeared a couple…

Are Republicans Blameless for Public Benefits?

David Brooks, the conservative columnist for The New York Times, is an elegant writer who’s usually worth reading. Last week, he wrote an intriguing piece, “The Paralysis of the State,” arguing that government benefits have gotten so rich, they have made it impossible for governments to do gigantic new projects, like the interstate highway system. Brooks called this “the Democratic Party’s epic failure.” Whether rising benefits have led to governments suffering from “demosclerosis,” as Brooks (and Jonathan Rauch, who coined the term) would have it, is debatable: It doesn’t seem to have done this in European countries like Denmark and…