Thursday, July 16, 2015

Scam of the century, ongoing

So I'm trying to decide what $250 million could buy me, now that the politicians in Wisconsin have become the latest to cave in to blackmail. Better roads? Better schools? More libraries? Universities (more on that later)?

Nah. Let's give it to a basketball team instead.

Let's build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks because the new owners (with the not-so-subtle backing of the NBA) basically threatened to move the team to Las Vegas if Wisconsinites didn't pony up. It's an old standard, playing off municipalities against one another, and the reason it's an old standard is it always works.

And so the owners, a couple of stickup artists named  Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, will get their new arena virtually for free, if the state Assembly, as expected, approves what the state Senate just passed. Oh, they'll have to kick in $150 million, but that's couch cushion money for two guys whose aggregate worth is somewhere well north of $3 billion. No word on whether they'll also score a bundle of food stamps and other welfare the public so often resents, unless of course it's welfare for a couple of billionaires.

Then it's all about job creation, a weak jest in these cases, given that economists long since shot that one full of holes. These big stadium/arena deals, at least on the major-league level, never create enough jobs to make them worth the public investment, and the ones they do create are mainly transitory construction jobs. The rest are restaurants and bars that simply shift the existing workforce from other restaurants and bars around town.

None of this is anything new, of course, but what makes it especially obscene in this case is the backdrop against which it's happening. While the Wisconsin lege gets ready to comfort the comfortable, the state's governor, the famously anti-labor, anti-education Scott Walker, just signed a budget which will gut the University of Wisconsin system, previously one of the best in the nation.

The amount he's taking away from his state university?

You got it: $250 million.

Ain't (selective) austerity grand?


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