One of the first acts of Governor Scott Walker and his Republican cohorts in the Wisconsin legislature was to eliminate Wisconsin's Department of Commerce, a state agency, and replace it with a quasi-governmental corporation with the mission of encouraging business expansion using taxpayer-funded grants and tax incentives. Some have suggested that the public/private corporation was formed to dole out rewards to companies that support Governor Walker and his fellow Republicans. I would never dream of suggesting anything like that.
The folks who run the new company/agency hybrid are wrestling with big questions like whether to refer to the newly formed Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) by its acronym "weed-ick" or as "the Corporation." No, really.
I think the Governor's office already called dibs on "the Corporation" for its own use, so it looks like "weed-ic" (or "wee-dick" ) will win. Those and other wee-dick growing pains are documented in a recent article printed in the Wisconsin State Journal and posted on Madison.com.
Despite being behind schedule hiring staff, ordering signage, designing a new logo and setting up a web site, the head of the wee-dick, Mike Klonsinski, has already started handing out tax breaks.
One such hand-out, documented in the State Journal, went to a company called Freedom Graphic Systems in Milton, Wisconsin. That company does very well for itself feeding at the government trough. A large share of its printing business comes from government contracts with the IRS, the Social Security Administration, the Census Bureau, and other agencies. In fact, they were number 7 on a 2009 ranking of printers contracted by the Government Printing Office. They raked in $8,601,109 in contracts from that office in 2009.
They slipped to 45 in last year's ranking, with "only" $1,624,594 worth of government work. Don't worry, though. They're doing OK. They just won a $298,960 federal contract from the Government Printing Office for the printing of individual income tax packages along with other taxpayer-funded contracts.
OK, so what? Someone has to do the work. At least they work for that money. Well...they also received a huge local tax break to expand their business in 2007. They built a huge new facility with the expectation of increased business. They took a good ol' American free-market risk (except that the city of Milton sold them the land for their new state-of-the-art facility for one dollar.)
Then the recession hit. Good thing they were able to secure all those government contracts in 2009, especially since they had to lay off thirty employeees right after the new year. That must have been a tough year. So tough, in fact that the CEO of Freedom Graphic Systems, Marty Liebert, had to wait until 2010 to open his horse stable and "full service" equestrian center. I assume that's where he keeps his herd of Arabian horses.
So, here we are in 2011, where Governor Walker's wee-dick "helped" Freedom Graphic Systems hire 13 new employees and purchase a $5 million digital printing press by extending $138 thousand in tax credits.
That's right. We are supposed to believe that $138 thousand in tax give-aways was the sweetener that finally convinced Freedom Graphic Systems to spend $5 million on new equipment and hire 13 new employees. Just like your grandma is convinced you will wither away and die of starvation if you don't have dessert after stuffing yourself at Thanksgiving dinner.
What did the recipients of these tax credits have to say about this critical lifeline offered by the wee-dick? Did their executives fall on their knees and thank Wisconsin taxpayers for saving their company? Not quite.
"It was nice to get some help from the state," said Terry Brady, Freedom's chief financial officer. "We felt we were doing something good for the region and the state. It was nice to have that acknowledged."
I believe the title "Freedom's chief financial officer" is already in use by Ron Paul, but that's an aside. It was nice of us to insist that Freedom Graphic Systems take our little gift of $138 thousand dollars to acknowledge how nice we think they are. To quote Major Frank Burns from the television series M.A.S.H.... "It's nice to be nice...to the nice."
Like a scoop of ice cream on your apple pie is nice. Like a massage at the end of a long day watching people train your horses is nice. Like a $350 dollar bottle of wine with your steak is nice. They're not necessary, they're just nice.
Wisconsin. We're nice. Especially if you donate to Republican members of the state legislature.