Put me firmly in the camp that is angry at Walker for this decision.
KENOSHA — Gov. Scott Walker’s rejection of the proposed Kenosha casino Friday prompted anger from Racine- and Kenosha-area officials.
In rejecting the casino, Walker cited the project’s potential hit to the state budget, which he has said is due to compacts former Gov. Jim Doyle negotiated with the Forest County Potawatomi. The compacts called for the tribe to be reimbursed for losses incurred because of a new casino.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, blamed Doyle for creating a “no-win situation.”
But Vos, who is close with the governor, also said Walker made the wrong decision.
On the merits, Walker got it wrong. While there remained a risk that the state would have been held liable for the Potawatomi’s losses per their compact, the BIA has already ruled that provision unenforceable. It is likely that the courts would rule in the BIA’s favor. And even so, the Menomonee had already agreed to make the state taxpayers whole in this eventuality. The risk to the taxpayers was more than acceptable given the opportunity to create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic development for the state.
Walker blew the chance to bring jobs and economic development to Wisconsin. The question is “why?” and none of the possible answers look good for Walker.
The reason for the decision given by Walker is that the risk of losing money from the Potawatomi was too great. First, as I said above, the risk was more than acceptable given the potential reward. Second, it shows that Walker prioritized state tax revenue over jobs and economic development in the private sector. That’s not a conservative position. Even if it came to pass that the state did lose $100 million from the Potawatomi – offset by whatever revenues are generated by the new casino – it represents a tiny fraction of a $30 billion budget. And with the stated goal of reducing the size of government, Walker should have no problem dealing with a decline in revenue from the Potawatomi – assuming he’s sincere about his pledge to shrink state government.
If the stated reason for Walker’s decision is the real one, then it was just a stupid decision. But more troubling are some of the other possible reasons. Both Iowa social conservatives and allegedly Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate who has opposed the Seminole casinos in the past, have urged Walker to kill the Kenosha casino. With Walker wanting to run for president, it sure appears that he let his personal political aspirations influence his decision to the detriment of the welfare of Wisconsin.
But even if Walker did make his decision based on politics, it was a stupid political decision too. Walker’s claim to fame is that he is a tough conservative who is not afraid to take on the tough fights. Well, he buckled on this decision. “Unintimidated?” hardly.
Also, Walker stakes his political reputation on being a champion of private sector job creation. With this decision, he has given up that plank. He has little ground to stand on criticizing opponents of the iron mine, Keystone pipeline, or other major projects when he single-handedly turned away thousands of private Wisconsin jobs. And every time Walker complains about job creation, his opponents can rightly point to this decision as hypocritical.
Finally, Walker used the excuse that it was former governor Jim Doyle’s horrible compact with the Potawatomi that forced this decision. While it is true that Doyle signed a sweetheart deal that put the taxpayers at risk and made this decision somewhat challenging, it’s a weak excuse. Walker has been governor for 4 years. He is well past the point of being able to blame his predecessor. He was elected to make changes and move Wisconsin forward – not make excuses and whine about the decisions of previous governors.
This further undermines Walker’s argument for being president. If he should win the White House, he will be succeeding perhaps the most destructive president we have had in a very long time. There will be huge messes left for him to figure out. How is he going to deal with Obamacare? ISIS? Immigration? Massive deficit? Etc. Is he going to just blame Obama and say he can’t do anything about those messes? If he can’t handle a bad compact with a tiny tribe in Wisconsin, how is he going to handle Putin? Again, Walker’s claim is that he is “unintimidated,” but he has severely undermined that image.
Whether you look at it based on the merits or the politics, Walker got this very wrong and the state of Wisconsin has missed out on a rare opportunity for a massive infusion of economic development.
Unfortunately, he can’t be reached for comment this weekend because he’s campaigning for president in Iowa. By such actions he is showing us his priorities.