Set aside the hot subject of a new basketball arena for downtown Milwaukee – that’s a horse race that’s already far down the track – and we still face a lot of major policy questions about the future of the Milwaukee area’s cultural and recreational assets.
Museums, the zoo, parks, playgrounds, the convention center, cultural organizations– these are important assets to the community and keys to the overall quality of life of people living in and visiting the Milwaukee area.
What should do to keep them vibrant and how should we pay for what we do?
Marquette Law School and the Public Policy Forum, a non-partisan local research organization, are partnering in an effort to help educate people on the issues surrounding these important aspects of our community. The two institutions have created a Web-based tool for learning about the issues and developing your own thoughts on what should be done and how it might be financed.
The tool focuses on a simulation of much of what will be on the agenda for both public and private investment in Milwaukee in coming years. The goal is not to advocate for or promote specific policies, but to increase public understanding, including the price tags on policy decisions and options for paying the prices.
The web page is available to anyone who wants to use it – in fact, that is the goal. The more people who use it, the more effective it will be in helping increase public understanding.
At a recent session of “On the Issues with Mike Gousha,” the Law School’s continuing series of public policy discussions, Professor Matt Parlow, the Law School’s associate dean of academic affairs, and Rob Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum, offered thoughts on the issues that lie ahead and a demonstration of how the simulation works.
In short, those who delve into the web page will be presented with options related to the future of various community assets, some background information on the issues surrounding those assets, a menu of choices to be made in shaping overall strategy for these institutions, and options on how to pay for whatever a person might favor.
Parlow said no one will keep score on what choices people favor, so no results related to what people whose will be given. The goal is not to assess public opinion in any way, he said. For one thing, the tool is not a valid way of doing that. The goal, he said, is to increase understanding.
Henken, who led the demonstrated of how to use the Web page, said any one using the simulation can choose to share their individual results with others by e-mail or social media. An option for doing that is offered as part of the Web site, but doing so is entirely up to each individual.
The content of the simulation drew on work done by a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce cultural and recreational assets task force in recent months and on research done by the policy forum, including information on what has been done with similar issues in other metropolitan areas.
Henken said the content was intended to be realistic, including in its proposals for how to pay for decisions, so property tax increases or payroll taxes for the Milwaukee were not included in the financing options because political and civic leaders have made it clear those options aren’t on the table. A local or regional sales tax and increased taxes on hotels and motels, cigarettes, and liquor are among the options that are offered.
The policy forum said in a recent report that cultural facilities and parks owned by Milwaukee County need $246 million in capital investment over the next five years. The same report also cites substantial funding needs faced by private cultural organizations — such as the Milwaukee Symphony and Milwaukee Ballet — as well as major entertainment venues.
Gousha, the Law School”s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, described the Web site as “a great primer” for people who want to understand what decisions lie ahead.
To use the Web toll, click here.
To view the “On the Issues” forum with Parlow and Henken, click here.