Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 28
Cut a deal to build new arena in Milwaukee
In the fog of the day-to-day debate, it's easy to lose sight of an important fact: Everyone is still talking about a new arena in Milwaukee. And when everyone talks, something usually happens.
We support building an arena — but we do not support it at any cost. Republicans in the Legislature are right to insist on alternatives now that Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to set aside tax revenue from NBA players to support bonding got such a poor review from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The fiscal hit on taxpayers could be as high as $488 million to generate the $220 million in arena financing the governor promised in his budget proposal, the bureau reported.
Walker's proposal would have plugged most of a gap in funding for a project estimated at $500 million. The owners of the Milwaukee Bucks have promised to kick in $150 million, and former owner Herb Kohl has promised to pony up $100 million.
But Walker's allies in the Legislature, already legitimately skittish about bonding costs, are looking for alternatives. A smaller state bonding package — perhaps $150 million — is an option.
Where would the remaining $100 million come from?
Some of it could come from city and county contributions. The size and scope of those contributions aren't known and may depend on the size and scope of any nearby development spurred by a new arena.
And the owners could decide to invest more of their own money or find new investors. The wealthy owners of the Golden State Warriors are paying for a new arena in San Francisco by themselves. And while one shouldn't compare the two markets — there is no comparison — hedge fund managers Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan and financial Wes Edens should do more.
The BMO Harris Bradley Center doesn't look old, doesn't feel old and seems just fine to most fans. But not to the NBA, which wants a different kind of facility with more amenities and more ways to make money.
Whatever we may think of the Bradley Center, if Milwaukee wants to remain an "NBA city," the city must comply with NBA standards. Otherwise, the Bucks morph into the Supersonics or something else.
If the Bucks do exit, Milwaukee will be left with an aging, half-vacant arena in need of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance. Taxes and an opportunity to redevelop nearby land will be lost.
The benefits of keeping the Bucks may be debatable, but a small city in a cold climate needs all the quality-of-life amenities it can get.
The best bet: Squeeze the owners as hard as possible to see if more change will fall out of their pockets and insist that all levels of government contribute in some fashion. Then cut a deal. Where's former Gov. Tommy Thompson when we need him? He'd know exactly what to do.
The Journal Times of Racine, March 29
Allow retired or off-duty cops to carry guns into schools
When people hear the words guns and school, their ears quickly perk up.
No one wants guns anywhere near schools — unless a situation arises where police need to be called. Then we all agree police must be equipped to handle the emergency.
However, in reality police cannot be everywhere at all times.
For that reason, the proposed bill allowing off-duty and retired law enforcement to carry concealed firearms on school grounds is a reasonable bill that should be supported.
There have been proposals in the past suggesting anyone with a concealed carry permit should be allowed to carry guns in schools. That we do not agree with.
This bill does not suggest that. It is limited strictly to off-duty and retired law enforcement.
If a father who is also a police officer goes to his daughter's Christmas play, he should be allowed to carry his gun into the school even if he is not working. We pray nothing ever happens where he would have to use that gun. But if something did happen, we would want someone there to help protect the public.
Similarly, if a retired officer or deputy attends a meeting at a school, he should be able to carry a gun as well.
The way the law is worded now only law enforcement officers acting in his or her official capacity are allowed to carry a firearm on or within 1,000 feet of school grounds.
Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, who co-authored the bill, said the proposal would increase school safety in the event of an active threat, according to a Daily Cardinal story.
Wanggaard, a former Racine police officer, explained, "When you have a firearm for your career, you learn that carrying it is a positive ... We want to multiply the good guys with guns."
David Graves, a retired Walworth County Sheriff, also explained off-duty and retired police officers still must uphold a responsibility to protect the public, according to the article.
"I retired in January, and just because I left my post doesn't mean I don't still have a duty to serve my community," Graves said in the Daily Cardinal story.
Others have expressed concern about the bill. Among them is Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, who is quoted in the article saying, "I have a philosophy that the fewer guns on school property the better and more guns could lead to more problems."
Ideally there shouldn't be any weapons on school properties at all. But in reality, sometimes bad things happen.
Retired and off-duty law enforcement should be allowed to protect us if an active threat emerges.
Wisconsin State Journal, April 1
Don't let farming wilt in America's Dairyland
As Wisconsin farmers prepare to start another spring of fieldwork, the latest census data are raising a troubling question about the future of agriculture in America's Dairyland: Will Wisconsin run out of farmers?
Wisconsin is experiencing a steep drop in the number of new farmers, far steeper than in surrounding states. Also in decline is the number of the state's small farms — which offer fertile ground for new farmers.
While there is almost no chance that Wisconsin will confront a future without farmers, the data are worth the concern of farm organizations, university officials and policymakers.
Farming is not just the source of Wisconsin's nickname. It is a huge contributor to the state's economy. On-farm activity accounted for 153,900 jobs, $8.9 billion in total income, and $20.5 billion in industrial sales, according to the most recent U.S. Census of Agriculture.
But data from that same every-five-years census, covering 2007 to 2012, showed the number of farmers in operation in Wisconsin for less than 10 years fell by 27.5 percent. Other Midwest states showed declines, but none dropped so steeply. In Iowa, the drop was 14.9 percent. In Illinois, it was 17.4 percent. In Nebraska, the number of new farmers was up 9.8 percent.
Wisconsin's larger decline occurred despite its reputation for offering programs that help new farmers get started.
There was a mitigating factor. Wisconsin is continuing to need fewer farmers. That's because of the long-term nationwide trend toward farms growing larger and fewer as farmers sell out, often to neighboring farmers who expand their operations.
That suits another trend — toward using advancing technology to farm more acres and raise more livestock more cost-effectively.
But the national trend toward larger farms is at the expense of medium-sized farms, not small farms. Small farms have often been cited as an area of growth, where new farmers' new ideas and energy can tie into consumer trends such as demand for organic products, buy-local programs, community-supported agriculture and more.
Wisconsin's decline in small farms diverges from that storyline, which does not bode well for the state's economic future.
Despite the worrisome figures in the census report, the data still provide reasons for optimism about farming's future in Wisconsin. The state's farmers earn 1 percent more net cash income than the national average. And the market value of the state's farm products rose 30 percent from 2007 to 2012.
Nonetheless, the declines in new farmers and small farms should prompt state leaders to revisit the report "The Future of Farming and Rural Life in Wisconsin," produced by the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters in 2007. The report contained recommendations for improving prospects for farmers and rural communities, from developing new strategies for farmer cooperatives, to encouraging angel investing in agriculture to supporting bioenergy initiatives.
Farming is too valuable to the state's economy to allow problems to go unsolved.
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