Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Attention, Waukesha County Taxpayers: On The Road To Sprawlville, Shop T'il You Drop

In this the third installment of a continuing series, The Road To Sprawlville, let us take yet another look at the political and financial activity at Pabst Farms, the 1,500-acre new city being built on former grain-growing acreage in Western Waukesha County on both sides of the Interstate.

Facing the possibility that the mega-mall planned there might open without a way for shoppers to actually drive into its parking lots, the powers that be have announced that funding has been found to construct for mall access a top-of-the-line "diamond" Interstate highway interchange.

This blog had suggested - - an example is here - - that the mall developers, and not taxpayers, pay the estimated $25-million interchange tab, since the state's transportation fund is already short a few billion fbucks or everything currently on the books.

Waukesha County is the heart of the region's tax rebellion, so you'd think that taxpayers and politicos would want -- no, demand for the sake of ideological consistency - - that the private sector pay for its amenities.

And to tamp down taxation and spending.

Well, maybe just a little, it turns out.

The mall operators are kicking in 7% of the tab.

Local and state taxpayers will cough up the rest, according to Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas.

In fact, Waukesha County's share of $1.75 million - - identical to the mall owner's contribution - - was cobbled together from savings on capital projects - suggesting that county taxpayers have been overtaxed routinely if there's that kind of loose change lying around unspent in county coffers.

The state share will be in the range of $21+ million - - a drop in the $6 billion bucket known as the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Freeway project - - though it alters the schedules and will increase pressure to spend more money faster on the connecting segments.

Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

State and local officials are hailing the deal; no doubt it will be offered up as regional cooperation at its finest.

But is it really?

In fact, the deal, put together because no one had budgeted interchange spending while the mall plans moved forward, is little more than welfare for a self-described upscale, privately-owned commercial project.

And one that is already benefiting from subsidies provided for Pabst Farm infrastructure through Tax Increment Financing.

The mall will also pull business away from merchants in the small city downtowns nearby - - Oconomowoc, Jefferson, Ft. Atkinson - - and City of Waukesha officials will no doubt point to growth at Pabst Farms to their west to justify further annexations onto their tax base.

That's one of the distortions caused by the rush to build The Road To Sprawlville: public money gets used to subsidize development that pushes the economy farther from already-built business districts - - with merchants and residents in the losing communities knowing that some of their tax money is paying for their demise.

It's more than a self-inflicted wound, since the blows comes from the top down, and the collateral damage hits on Main Streets without the direct consent of the already insulted injured.

Mall supporters are touting its revenue production for state and local collections, so the message to Waukesha County and local Oconomowoc taxpayers is this:

Shop t'il you drop and help pay off your interchange investment.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Very well put. Here we go again subsidizing sprawl.