Progressive Dane cheered on as our city made commitments to equity and justice, and now we urge our leaders to put those commitments in action by rejecting the Judge Doyle Square proposal. Instead, we should pursue investments that will address Madison’s real needs.
During Fall 2013, the city made a commitment to advancing racial equity and social justice. On Tuesday, September 29, the Madison Common Council will make a decision on a different commitment, an unprecedented commitment of more than $47 million in public subsidies to develop Judge Doyle Square. This staggering sum includes $12 million in a “jobs grant” to facilitate the location of Exact Sciences Corporation’s headquarters there, and the whole package will cost each Madison household about $320. Commitment to equity and justice has been difficult to discern in the Judge Doyle Square plan, and in the analysis and discussions of the proposal.
Recently, Mayor Soglin characterized the project as a "rising tide which would lift up all boats” drawing attention away from the extensive benefits being given to the yacht-owning class. Rising economic tides have never lifted all boats, and in Madison and globally, it is increasingly the case that economic growth benefits some greatly at the expense of others. This metaphor also excludes the many in our community who are struggling to keep their boats afloat, or treading water to keep from drowning. These are the people who most need our city to focus on equity and justice. At a time when even the International Monetary fund denounces trickle-down economics as a driver of economic inequality, it is unfortunate that our Mayor must hearken back to the Reagan era for justification of this corporate welfare project.
The April 2014 “Strategic Vision for the Future: City of Madison Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative” report and recommendations call for Equity Impact Analyses for city investments, large and small. Proponents of the project have made mention of equity when selectively highlighting portions of the deal, invoking simplistic economic clichés, and pointing to future projected property tax revenues – without noting the riskiness of the deal. The equity analysis released on Friday, four days before the vote, is too little, too late.
The most common appeals to equity have centered on the jobs associated with Exact Sciences. We have repeatedly been reminded that the company has an admirable record of partnering with local organizations to hire a diverse workforce. We hope that commitment would continue with or without public subsidies. Proponents often speak of “job creation” by Exact Sciences; however the commitments Exact Sciences is willing to make say nothing about creating new jobs in our community, and only promise to relocate existing jobs to the new facility. Relocating jobs does nothing for equity or justice.
Proponents have also cited various figures about the median compensation of Exact Sciences employees to create an unrealistic picture of what these jobs will look like. These figures are skewed by the $3.05 million annual package of CEO Kevin Conroy and the other executives bringing in over $ 1 million a year. In the current phase of growth, the jobs created are more likely to be along the lines the “Customer Sales Associates” and ‘Specimen Processing Technicians” Exact Sciences is currently seeking. The agreement with Exact Sciences only requires that the positions pay a “Living Wage,” which is currently less than $13 an hour. or about 1/100 of what Kevin Conroy makes. Hard to find the equity and justice here.
The final way some wish to sell this subsidy as serving equity and justice is by vaguely referencing the good that may be done at some point in the future if the projected tax revenues are realized. This obscures the fact that the vast majority of revenues being projected come from already existing growth in TID #25, and gambles on the many uncertain elements of the project. The current surplus in TID #25 provides an immediate opportunity to enhance equity and justice.
State statutes allow for Tax Incremental Finance Districts which have met their obligations to remain open for one year, with the tax collections for that year devoted to affordable housing development. With TID #25 this would total almost $4 million. All agree that Madison has an affordable housing shortage (the rising tide has mostly resulted in rising rents and more people priced out) and that addressing this shortage would serve equity and justice. Closing the TID would give the city, the school district, the county, and MATC direct and unlimited access to about $23 million in capital, and return about $200 million in property to the general tax rolls.
Progressive Dane is the Progressive Political Party in Dane County, Wisconsin.
PO Box 1222, Madison, WI 53701
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