On Tuesday, the Madison Common Council will vote on spending 47 million dollars of tax money on the Judge Doyle Square project – a proposal to build a hotel, corporate headquarters, and parking ramp.
Beyond the questionable use of public resources for a private enterprise, Judge Doyle Square has largely been viewed as a distraction from the many pressing needs Madison must tackle, namely affordable housing and education funding. This raises the question of Madison’s commitment to solutions outlined in the City of Madison Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative. Development projects of any size are supposed to go through equity analysis to ensure benefits are realistic, honest, and broadly felt across the community. The Judge Doyle Square proposal has not received a detailed analysis on potential contributions to solving Madison’s equity problem, but that hasn’t stopped its champions from singing its graces.
From the Capital Times:
“More importantly, Exact Sciences has enlightened leadership that is committed to the creation of living-wage jobs, and to ensuring that a substantial portion of those jobs go to women and people of color. Fifteen percent of the current Exact Sciences Wisconsin workforce is people of color. Women make up 55 percent of the Wisconsin workforce. In pursuing the headquarters project, Exact Sciences has agreed to work with the Urban League of Greater Madison to develop new training, recruiting and hiring programs. Additionally, the project’s developer is committed to meeting basic standards for racial, ethnic and gender diversity in employment for the construction of the project.”
Exact Sciences may be an equitable employer, but that doesn’t mean they are worthy of unprecedented investment of public dollars in a private project. Even the job creation promises of this project are hollow, as Exact Sciences is merely promising to keep 300 jobs that already exist here. When we look closer, we can see this as a thinly veiled attempt by supporters to package corporate welfare as equity and justice.
Bernie Sanders wept.
The most insidious thing is using the struggles of communities of color to encourage residents to support pillaging their own common good. We hear time after time, that we need these projects to “stimulate the tax base” so we can support investments that empower communities and that trickle-down use of public money will create a tide that raises all boats (Sidenote: Since when do Madison liberals have a thirst for repackaging Reagan-era ideas?).
We know that communities of color have rightfully seen through these slights of hand and instead mobilized to protect valuable public goods for the public interest.
For example, in Oakland:
“On Tuesday, Oakland quietly issued a “notice of intent and offer to convey property” for the 12th Street Remainder Parcel, the acre of land near Lake Merritt that until recently was slated to become a 300-unit luxury apartment tower. Under the Surplus Land Act, Oakland was required to first offer the site to affordable housing developers, but the city instead issued a private RFP to three companies seeking to build luxury housing on the site.
“What we’re seeing in our neighborhood, and across Oakland, is that there are development plans to provide housing for more affluent folks,” said Taruc. “But there are no plans for lower income people.” Taruc noted that with the loss of redevelopment funds from the state, and the financial squeeze the Great Recession put on the city, Oakland has fewer resources now to build affordable housing. “That’s why this development is so important for us, because it’s public land, and one of the few places we can assert that public good should come first.”
Or in Milwaukee:
“Common Ground supporters say the issue comes down to a question of priorities. Willie Davis, pastor of Invisible Reality Ministries, an organization that provides social services, counseling and mentorship to youth and families, said politicians complain about high crime rates and a lack of school funding but refuse to actually do anything about it.
“…Our young people are suffering, these families are suffering, our city is suffering. Let’s put the money where it could be more productive,” said Davis.
Depue said this process has revealed the “lack of focus of our local public officials” and “how easy it is for people to come in from outside of our community and dictate to us what we should do and that, somehow or another, our public officials roll over and play dead.
“I find that very disappointing,” she added.”
Here is the real deal folks; if we turn down enriching private interests and instead closed the special tax district, which will be pillaged to finance the Judge Doyle Square project, we can actually achieve some of our community goals. Turn down for what you say?
◆$4 million in funds to support affordable housing
◆$33 million in funds immediately available to the city of Madison, Madison College, Dane County and most importantly, the Madison School District
◆$200 million in property returned to the tax rolls
This isn’t jazz hand money. This isn’t Diagon Alley money. This isn’t “It’s in Tom’s House and Fred’s House” money. This is real money that can be used to solve real issues plaguing our community. We can fund more affordable housing, we can expand county social services, and we can plug the holes in our education system that yearly cuts are creating.
Which is exactly what we have been told for years was the purpose of special tax districts in the first place!
So instead of promoting corporate welfare as social justice, can we finally put our money where our mouth is?