Milwaukee, WI. Residents Go To Ballot To Fight Public Bail Out For Wal-Mart
The recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is not the only election generating controversy this week in Wisconsin.
Residents in South Milwaukee,Wisconsin, who are fed up with Wal-Mart, have decided to take their case directly to the voters.
Under Section 9.20 of Chapter 9 of the Wisconsin Statutes, providing for "Direct Legislation," 15% of the voters in a city or town can submit a petition with the city or town clerk "requesting that a proposed ordinance or resolution, without alteration, either be adopted by the common council or village board or be referred to a vote of the electors."
Voters in South Milwaukee find it offensive that city officials are proposing to use public financing to pave the way for a Wal-Mart. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on March 30th that residents in South Milwaukee are collecting signatures to put a piece of "direct legislation" on the ballot to require that any city spending in excess of $1 mlllion has to be approved by the voters in a referendum.
James Leavens, one of the organizers of the effort, told the Journal that the Wal-Mart project is an example of a plan that would have to go to the voters. The petitions are now being circulated by a group called Friends of South Milwaukee, which has been vocal in their opposition to the 115,000 s.f. Wal-Mart project located on 10 acres of land.
Months ago the South Milwaukee Common Council gave the Wal-Mart project a green light, and as part of that approval, agreed to spend as much as $1.8 million in taxpayers' money on the development -- a form of public welfare.
The city plans on spending $800,000 to remediate some contamination on a piece of the property owned by the city. Common Council also plans to spend roughly $1 million to clean up a second parcel of land that is privately owned by a Wal-Mart developer.
According to the Journal, taxpayers are being asked to cough up more than $3 million in public subsidies for the richest retailer in America. Taxpayers have already committed $1.75 million to buy and clean up a piece of land that it is selling to the developer for only $500,000 -- a net loser for the taxpayer.
The city estimates that Wal-Mart will pay $276,000 in property taxes annually to help pay off the city's costs. But a new Wal-Mart will largely draw its sales from existing merchants, causing some to close and reduce their property tax payments. So the net taxes paid to the city will be lower than the official gross estimate.
On April 17th the Common Council will discuss an ordinance to authorize the borrowing of $1.5 million for the Wal-Mart project -- but now the issue may end up before the voters instead. Opponents must submit nearly 1,200 signatures on their petition. The Council must then either pass the legislation within 30 days, or pass it on to the voters on a city-wide ballot.
What you can do: When Wal-Mart is confronted with this kind of referendum, the corporation often spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat opponents. Wal-Mart's sense of how a democracy works is this: the one with the most money wins. So local residents will have a challenge on their hands to get this referendum passed.
Readers are urged to email South Milwaukee Mayor Thomas Zepecki at email@example.com with the following message:
Dear Mayor Zepecki,
Having Wal-Mart come to South Milwaukee with a store nearly the size of two football fields is bad enough -- but giving them public welfare to come is even worse.
The Walton Family collectively is the richest family in America, holding more wealth than the bottom 30% of all Americans combined. Taxpayers in South Milwaukee do not have to spend one penny on Wal-Mart's behalf. This kind of corporate welfare must stop.
If this project cannot stand on its own finanically, then it should be allowed to fall of its own weight. The city surely can come up with a project that pays more property taxes, provides better jobs, and doesn't just import more Chinese products into Wisconsin. With a little creativity, the city can put together a project that more closely reflects the city's slogan of a "promising future."
South Milwaukee already has 9 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles, including two supercenters (Franklin and Milwaukee) less than 8 miles away. Your city is saturated with big box stores within a short drive -- so another Wal-Mart adds no value to your local economy.
As Mayor, you should lead the effort to pass legislation prohibiting the use of any public money for this private project,and make Wal-Mart pay its own way."