Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dissent in the WMC Ranks?

The Cap Times had an interesting article yesterday on the growing politicization of the corporate lobby group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC).

I've discussed before how many business leaders don't cite taxes as their biggest concern, or even close to their biggest concern, although it's clearly the biggest message coming out of the group that claims to represent their interests.

In a WMC survey last spring, for instance, taxes landed 7th on the list of business concerns behind health care costs, competition, labor shortage, energy, regulation, and economic slowdown. Similarly, a recent survey of biotech companies in Wisconsin listed skilled and educated workers, access to university research, health care costs, and access to investment capital as the top concerns; taxes didn't make the list.

And, in February, Northwestern Mutual Life CEO Edward Zore surprised an audience of business leaders in Milwaukee when he told them: "Taxes for us are not bad."

In yesterday's Cap Times article, a similar sentiment was struck by one of WMC's own board members. According to Randy Smith, president of City Brewing Company in La Crosse, "Sure, taxes are important but they don't make or break us."

Also at issue was the way WMC has a knack for trashing the state's business climate -- which it ties entirely to taxes via rankings by the right-wing Tax Foundation -- while ignoring many of the positive aspects that make doing business and living in Wisconsin viable options. To be sure, when a variety of economic factors are considered, Wisconsin actually ranks as one of the top states for business performance, vitality, and development capacity.

WMC's leadership claims it's not supposed to be a cheerleader for the state, but there's a lot of reasonable middle ground between cheerleading for the state and trashing it. And considering the group's extremely deep pockets, what makes WMC's tunnel vision rhetoric so destructive is that it distracts the state from tackling public policy issues that could significantly help Wisconsin businesses.

With some of those issues -- such as health care reform and investment in university research -- just around the corner in Wisconsin politics, the question becomes: How much more of the WMC trash are members going to be willing to take?

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Blogger Dad29 said...

It would be a lot more useful if WMC were to point out that Wisconsin SPENDING is out of control.

April 17, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Actually, Dad29, total state and local spending in Wisconsin is ranked 24th in the nation relative to personal income, according to the latest LFB figures.

See here, pages 38 or 71.

April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Vic said...

So do you percieve this devisivness to be deep enough from keeping WMC from spending 1.7M to 2M on a Supreme Court race next year?

April 18, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Probably not. The dissent isn't nearly that deep, yet. If WMC (or, more accurately, its "Issue Mobilization" arm, which, I believe, is funded through outside donations, not member dues) has the money -- and it surely has the money -- it will spend it on behalf of GOP candidates.

But, in time, the organization's leadership could find itself at odds with a growing number of members over issues that are of great importance to most businesses, such as health care reform and public investment in university research, along with the clearly partisan nature of the organization's political arm. And if its members starting dropping out, WMC essentially becomes just another GOP front group like Coalition for America's Families or Americans for Prosperity -- well-funded, but not well-respected.

April 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post failed to mention that the WMC survey to which you linked had "Taxes" as the #1 public policy concern facing Wisconsin.

So while the companies surveyed may have ranked taxes lower on the list for issues facing their own business, they clearly indicated that taxes are the most important policy issue facing the legislature.

Your characterization of the survey is therefore misleading at best.

April 20, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I wrote: "In a WMC survey last spring, for instance, taxes landed 7th on the list of business concerns behind health care costs, competition, labor shortage, energy, regulation, and economic slowdown."

The question on the survey was: "What is the top business concern facing your company?"

How exactly was that misleading?

The previous question on the survey -- "What is the top public policy issue facing Wisconsin?" -- deals with public policy in general, not specific to businesses. This post is on how WMC addresses business concerns, not how WMC members generally view public policy. WMC is a business group, not a general advocacy group (or, at least, that's what it says). So the issue of whether it's addressing its members concerns is far more directly related to the question I cite than the one you bring up.

But the seemingly paradoxical results do beg the question: If taxes aren't amoung the top 5 concerns businesses have, why do business leaders cite it as the topic public policy issue for the state? It's probably because business taxes in Wisconsin are relatively low, while individual taxes are high (and those two trends are very related). But something tells me WMC doesn't want to delve into that reality too far.

April 20, 2007  

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