My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:
In about 1832, former Federal Judge James Doty and two partners purchased more than 1,000 acres of land on the isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona for $2,400. He intended to build a city in the Four Lakes region centrally located to the strategically important ports of Prairie du Chen and Green Bay and the lucrative lead-mining area.
When Wisconsin became a territory in 1836, one of the first tasks for Gov. Henry Dodge and the territorial convention as they met in a cold wood building in Belmont was to choose a site for the capital of the territory. Doty quickly jumped into action.
Doty arrived in Belmont with the plans for a new city built on the isthmus. It would be named after President James Madison, the Father of the Constitution who died earlier that year. The streets would be laid out emanating from the central square with the principal streets being named for other signers of the U.S. Constitution. And the grand capital of the new territory, which everyone assumed would eventually become a state, would rest on the highest point of the isthmus with a grand view of the beautiful lakes.
Of course, there were differences of opinion and other people who wanted the capital located elsewhere. But after a month of wrangling as autumn gave way to winter in 1836, Doty was not to be denied. He brought warm buffalo coats for the delegates and gave them generous plots near the center of the city. Eventually, Doty won the delegates over and Madison became the capital. Doty and his investors eventually brought in $35,510 for their investment of $2,400 — more than 1,400 percent profit — through the sale of land to the new government and people who wanted to be near it.
Madison is the capital of Wisconsin because someone stood to profit from that decision and nothing has changed since. It remains our capital because people profit from it being so.
State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk highlighted a small example in a memo to the joint Finance Committee last week. Adamczyk showed that the Department of Children and Families and the Government Accountability Board lease three floors of a building a block from the capitol for prices ranging between $17.86 and $22.94 per square foot. Neither agency needs to be near the capitol and, in fact, it imposes an inconvenience on citizens visiting those agencies as parking is scarce and expensive. By simply moving the agencies to the east side of Madison, they could halve the taxpayers’ lease expenses. There are ample locations for as little as $10 per square foot and they include free parking.
Why are these two agencies spending twice as much as necessary for a building near the capitol? Somebody is making money off that decision and the taxpayers are paying for it.
While Adamczyk brings to light a very salient example of waste and a way to reduce it, we should go one step further. Why must those agencies be in Madison at all? Instead of moving them to the east side of Madison, why not move them to the east side of Appleton? Wausau? Racine?
In 1836, when our capital was selected, it made sense for all government functions to reside in the same city. Roads were poor and it took days or weeks to traverse the state by horseback, wagon, or on foot. In order for one unit of government to coordinate with another, they had to physically meet in the same room or engage in a lengthy and time-consuming exchange of letters.
It isn’t 1836 anymore. In the 21st century, we are conducting business across the globe without leaving our desks. There is simply no longer a rational basis for all of our government to reside in the same city and there are several great benefits to diversifying the agencies.
The obvious benefit is cost. Real estate and housing for employees are less expensive in other areas of the state. For example, plenty of great office space is available in West Bend for less than $14 per square foot. Multiply a savings of 10-50 percent for hundreds of state government leases and the savings add up quickly for the taxpayers.
Beyond the actual monetary savings is the benefit to the areas of the state outside of Madison. Roughly $30 billion tax dollars flow through Madison every year. That money flows out in the form of salaries for employees, construction, rent and countless other expenses. Madison has rightly benefited from such a large, stable industry in its borders. Imagine the benefit to a community like Manitowoc, for example, if the Department of Revenue located there with its hundreds of good, middle-class jobs. By locating various agencies in communities around Wisconsin, those communities could receive some tangible benefit from their tax dollars.
Finally, perhaps the greatest benefit from decentralizing our state government would be cultural. Gov. Lee Dreyfus was accurate when he described Madison as “77 square miles surrounded by reality.” That reality is Wisconsin.
Madison has a separate and distinct culture that has grown out of decades of stable, well-compensated government workers at the state government and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The vast majority of our state government agencies are staffed by Madisonians who share their common culture. By diversifying the geography of state government, we would also diversify the culture of state government. Instead of being dominated by Madisonians, our state government would also be staffed by folks from Milwaukee, Waupun, Green Bay, Waukesha, Hudson and many other regions of the state. This diversification of culture will help our state government be more understanding and responsive to everyone in the state. If we truly value diversity, we should welcome it into our state government.
Since Madison was founded, we have invented automobiles, airplanes, telephones, computers, the Internet, video conferencing, webcasts and countless other advances that render the centralization of our state government both unnecessary and counterproductive to the advancement of the state. It is time for the state government to venture out of Madison.
You will have to prove this statement: “The vast majority of our state government agencies are staffed by Madisonians who share their common culture”.
Certainly they are Madison (or it’s environs) residents during the time they work there, but certainly that isn’t where they originally came from. When I worked in one of the GEF buildings there were folks from all over WI ( I came from the far north), the country, and the world. When I transferred to NE WI was I then a Madisonian (actually I had been living in Marshall) working for that state agency, or was I an up north guy returning closer to home? Once you get out to Regional/District office of any agency the diversity of origin is even more obvious. Nobody in the 100+ person I worked out of was from Madison, but many were from Florence, Ladysmith, EauClaire, Laona, FdL, even West Bend.
Poor thesis, even poorer argument. You can do better.
You will never get the agency HQ’s out of Madison in this political climate. The politicians want to be able to have Depart secretaries and staff at their beck and call.
Owen doesn’t have to prove a thing to you, Cuck.
Nothing like sending likely political opponents to the gulags to help diversify the culture, amiright?
Which is it, location-location-location, or would it be better to ask citizens seeking services to travel to Wausau instead? Should we ask why state government is leasing instead of building for the long term? Should we ask whether location affects the quality of the workers that an agency can attract? Should we ask why the Governor and aides fly from Madison to Milwaukee? Should we ask why so many of Wisconsin’s small towns are full of vacant buildings? Should we ask if a “resume-based” system of hiring would lead to more “diversity” or not?
Did you just call everyplace outside of Madison the “gulags”?
It’s that kind of elitism that verifies conservatives are correct to pursue this with a passion.
My only concern with Owen’s plan is we might export liberals to Washingtion County, and make it less Conservative.
As long as Madison becomes equivalently less liberal, I’m willing to make the trade.
The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands staff were moved to a vacant Ranger Station in Lake Tomahawk since most of the lands they managed were in the North. The old Wisconsin Conservation Department Forest Protection/Fire Control operation, including the Chief Forest Ranger (Bureau Director) and equipment maintenance personnel were stationed in Tomahawk. That was centrally located to most state forests and wooded lands in the state.
There is currently a proposal to communities in the north to again host the DNR Division of Forestry because that is where the forests are. It makes sense to review state government to see if some of its operations would be more efficient if they were in closer proximity to their client base or a resource they manage. That should be as great a reason to look at various state operations as a more “diverse” employee force or property lease costs in Madison versus outstate. I only mentioned a couple examples above, but the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection should only be the starting points.
Thanks for making my point, Kevin. Tell me this, oh small government conservatives: Are you seriously suggesting that government should be concerned with the political opinions of the people hired to do a job for the State, and that you think the government should “diversify” worker’s opinions by claiming it’ll save money on rent?
Small government conservatives. That is an oxymoron. Take a look at legislation passed in the last 6 years taking responsibility away from towns, counties, cities and school districts, then re-think that statement..
Was it due to an extensive survey of rents that determined that the Government Accountability Board should be the first to move?
I’m all for moving the capital to Washburn. But I doubt that the the governor and legislation wouldn’t want to go there.
Why would you want to do that to the good folks in Washburn?
Let me see if I can respond to some of the less inane questions/comments:
You will have to prove this statement: “The vast majority of our state government agencies are staffed by Madisonians who share their common culture”.
Not really. It’s pretty self-evident to those from outside Madison who have had dealings with various agencies. And you picked out one subjective characterization and used it as a perch to declare the whole concept invalid. You missed the point. Let me summarize the column: modern technology renders a centralized capital unnecessary and there are multiple benefits to decentralizing it including cost, spreading out our tax dollars so that multiple communities can benefit, and, as a byproduct, the introduction of a more diverse regional culture.
JF’s multiple questions. Yes, we should question all of those things, but they aren’t the subject of this particular column. Building v. leasing… employees v. contractors… flying v. driving… resumes v. civil service exam… yes. All of it. We should always be looking for ways for our government to do things in a way that brings the most value to the taxpayer – including the physical location of our government.
Are you seriously suggesting that government should be concerned with the political opinions of the people hired to do a job for the State
No. Only you said that. I said that cultural diversity would be a natural byproduct of geographic diversity. At no time did I advocate for a diversity test for potential employees of the state.
It is a bit amazing how much disdain some of you liberal have for Wisconsin communities outside of Madison. You are proving my thesis.
“The vast majority of our state government agencies are staffed by Madisonians who share their common culture”.
Those are your words, not mine. And the statement is false.
Now if you want to look strictly at upper level management in each Department HQ in Madison you may be closer to the truth. But those positions are appointed by the sitting governor, so look no farther than walker for your boogie man, as he has dipped farther down into the chain of command to establish appointed positions. And the recent trend in all state agencies is to re-centralize control to Madison. A great example would be the de-centralized DNR of 1996 versus the re-centralized and line command system now in place.
I don’t disagree with your point about using modern technology to allow state government to be located in remote locations away from Madison. But the statement about staff was just a cheap slam at what you consider the low hanging fruit.
Blog owner ignores the Cuck. The Cuck’s opinion didn’t matter.
What exactly did you mean by a “diverse regional culture” and “cultural diversity” and why should this be a goal of government, or as you put it, a desirable natural by-product of physical diversity? I’d love to hear your definition of “diverse” and your explanation of how Madison is less “diverse” than the rest of the state. I thought your dog-whistle was “political beliefs.” You meant something else? Religion? Ethnicity? What makes you think that Madison hasn’t attracted people of all backgrounds from Waupun and Green Bay as well as other states? You think all the state’s workers in Madison were born in Madison?
I truly hope that more Wisconsin conservatives will loosen their blinders and open their eyes to realize that all your fears about what goes wrong with government are happening with the Walker administration. It happens when you remove public oversight, boring bureaucratic civil service guidelines, and protection of employee rights. WEDC’s working great, right? Cronyism and political favors won’t be handed out with a resume-based system, right? Nothing to worry about. Where’s that recall petition web site again? Groups who want to talk and spend about politics are protected, but let’s hobble workers who want to assemble to improve their pay and workplace. Robin Vos will punish those UW professors because they expressed an opinion! One minute we should praise the free market for leveraging efficiencies of propinquity and the natural tendency of capital to centralize, the next minute we should implement government policies to spread the pork around.
I shouldn’t say “your fears.” I think we, you and I, rightly fear this about any political power. I think I see it now and you are deliberately ignoring it, at least in your public opinion. Walker and the WisGOP are ripping out public oversight and checks-and-balances by the handfuls.
Contractors? Let me give you an example that you and I can relate to regarding the State and IT contractors. DOA has a list of approved IT contracting companies. You can’t bid on a contract unless you’re on the list. There’s no way for a new company to be added to the list. There was a brief window a few years ago when they accepted new applications. There is no plan to accept new applications. Does that sound super-efficient, free market, and best for the taxpayers? And let’s be real. What’s your real opinion of the outside contractor who’s paid half as much as you, recruited by a headhunter to match a few keywords on a resume, with 15% off the top to the contractor? Good, fast, and cheap?
I also get the impression that you are not aware of the extensive technological resources that state employees and agencies have had at their disposal for decades that have allowed them to teleconference, network, and remote-access.
I’ve lived in a rural county in a city of 8,000 people for 23 years, all with an office building literally on that small town’s Main Street. For seven of those years, I moved out of town to 40 acres with a barn, animals, and a tractor. I lived in Madison for twelve before that, Oconomowoc and Shorewood before that, and born in Milwaukee. I’m a fine example of someone who moved to Madison because of the UW, and eventually took my skills to rural Wisconsin. Isn’t that your thesis?
Great post. And a great example to close.