My neighbor Jim Burns asked me the other day where all these supposed savings from Gov. Scott Walker's controversial Act 10 and cutbacks at the UW and other programs have gone.
How come we don't have enough money for roads and public schools and can't give the university any more money now that the governor and Legislature tell us the state's fiscal house is in such great shape thanks to their efforts and foresight?
Good questions, and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, answered some of them last week after she received a memo from the state's nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau that listed the tax credits given to some of the biggest corporations operating in the state, including $10 million to the wildly successful mail order conglomerate Amazon.com and $62.5 million to the thriving department store operator, Kohl's Corp.
All told, nearly a half-billion dollars have been doled out to 19 corporations deemed eligible for the state's Enterprise Zone Tax Credit, which was enacted in Walker's first year — the same year, incidentally, that state workers and teachers were required to fork over more of their take-home pay for pensions and health insurance, their unions were effectively denuded and public school aid was trimmed by $800 million.
According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the corporations are allowed to subtract the credits they are awarded from their annual gross income tax bill to reduce their taxes for expenses like adding and retaining employees, training, expansions and purchases from vendors located in the state. Amazon, for instance, has opened a $250 million distribution center near Kenosha.
If the tax credits exceed the amount of taxes due in a given year, the corporation can actually receive a refund from the state.
The entire program is administered by Walker's Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which as we all know has had a few problems with accountability during its brief history.
The Democracy Campaign went a step further and examined if there was any connection between the tax credits and the campaign donations those corporations made. Oh, for sure.
Direct Supply, a firm that services nursing homes and other facilities for the elderly, got tax credits of $22.5 million while it provided $46,321 in donations to Walker. Quad/Graphics, the giant printing operation, received $61.7 million in credits while helping Scott Walker with $29,060 in donations.
The Uline Corp., which manufactures shipping and packaging supplies and janitorial equipment, got a credit of $18.6 million while lavishing Walker's campaign fund with $286,500.
Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, owners of the corporation, have more recently been in the news because of a proposed deal with the state Department of Natural Resources in which Elizabeth would get 765 feet of lake frontage next to land she owns on Rest Lake near Manitowish Waters, while the DNR would get 42.7 acres and 2,100 feet of frontage on Mann Lake in Vilas County.
She happens to own an 11-unit condo complex next to the DNR's Rest Lake property and if she can secure the swap it would give the condo complex lake frontage. Critics of the deal, including former DNR Secretary George Meyer, have contended the state is giving up too much good lake access on Rest Lake.
Others contend it just doesn't look right for the state to be making deals with one of the governor's major donors. The Uihleins, incidentally, also contributed $2.5 million to Walker's short-lived "Unintimidated PAC," organized to support the Wisconsin governor's run for the GOP presidential nomination in early 2015. Yet, Walker and his pals accuse Hillary Clinton of "pay for play" because of donations to the family's philanthropic foundation.
But, of course, today political bribery is not only legal, but considered just the cost of doing business.
Funny, though — all those hundreds of millions of dollars to private corporate interests that reduce the money the state has available for maintaining services to the people is never considered welfare, although that's what it really is.
Somehow, welfare is a term reserved only for the poor.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel
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