Kenosha-area officials call on Walker to approve Menominee casino, put people to work

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FILE - This undated file image shows an artist's rendering provided by The Menominee Nation, of the tribe's proposed casino in Kenosha, Wis. Labor and political leaders from southeastern Wisconsin called on Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 to immediately approve the proposed $810-million casino and Hard Rock Cafe. The Bureau of Indian Affairs gave its approval for the casino a year ago, but Walker has until Feb. 19 to sign off on it. (AP Photo/The Menominee Nation via The Kenosha News, File)


MADISON, Wisconsin — Labor and political leaders from southeastern Wisconsin called on Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday to immediately approve the Menominee tribe's proposed casino in Kenosha because it would put people to work.

Pressure has been building on Walker to make a decision about whether to approve the proposed $810-million casino and Hard Rock Cafe before the Nov. 4 election. The Bureau of Indian Affairs gave its approval for the casino a year ago, but Walker has until Feb. 19 to sign off on it.

Walker ordered an economic impact study and has been negotiating with the two tribes that oppose the project — the Ho-Chunk and Forest County Potawatomi.

Walker, in a letter Tuesday to Democratic lawmakers who were calling on him to act, did not indicate when he would make a decision, saying only that he would take the "appropriate time necessary" while taking into consideration how the state budget could be affected by approving the casino.

Walker revealed in the letter that the Potawatomi has refused to make its annual casino revenue payment to the state while talks continued. A Potawatomi spokesman said Tuesday that the tribe was withholding its annual payment, estimated to be at least $25 million, because the state may end up owing the tribe money if Walker approves the new casino.

Walker administration spokesman Cullen Werwie said Wednesday that the state could end up owing the tribe as much as $100 million, based on the current compact that requires the state to refund previous payments made by the tribe if a new casino is approved.

The tribe opted to place this year's payment in a reserve account to be drawn from if the state ends up owing the tribe. Walker's administration contends that the Potawatomi have no right to withhold the payment and that the tribe's concerns are hypothetical.

The Potawatomi runs a lucrative casino in Milwaukee just up Interstate 94 from Kenosha and opposes the new facility, fearing it could hurt profits by luring customers away.

While talks continue with the Potawatomi, an agreement has been reached with the Ho-Chunk, Walker's top aide said in a memo released by the governor.

Under the Ho-Chunk's current compact, its payments to the state would decrease by how much it loses due to the Kenosha casino. The compact with the Potawatomi does not spell out as clear of a process, resulting in "substantial challenges," said Mike Huebsch, secretary of the Department of Administration in the memo.

Casino advocates on Wednesday argued that Walker should be persuaded to approve the project because of the jobs that would be created. Supporters say the casino would create 1,400 construction jobs, 3,300 direct permanent jobs and 1,800 indirect jobs.

"We've got a lot of people who haven't worked steadily in the construction trades," said Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman. "It will put people back to work. It's good for the state of Wisconsin."

Unemployment in Kenosha last month was 8.1 percent, the fourth highest of any major city. It was 11.3 in neighboring Racine, highest in the state.

"We really need jobs," said Keith Kemper, representing the sheet metal workers union.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a supporter of the casino, said he thought Walker was moving as quickly as he could, but he shouldn't feel pressure to decide before the election.

"The governor owes it to voters to make a good decision," Vos said. "If that's before the election, that's fine."

But Democratic lawmakers said Walker, who promised to create 250,000 private sector jobs over his first term but is less than halfway to reaching that goal, should approve the casino to show he's serious about putting people back to work.

"We just think there needs to be urgency around the jobs issue," said Rep. Peter Barca, Democratic minority leader in the state Assembly.

A Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday showed that 49 percent of respondents support the casino and 35 percent oppose it. The poll of 815 registered voters was done between Aug. 21 and Sunday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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