SPECIAL NOTE: INSIGHT 2013 Tickets PRESALE Begins today.


By holding his State of the City speech at the Historic Pritzlaff Building, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he was capturing the old and new of our city, a combination of our traditions of hard work and the new innovations that will enrich and grow our community.

But then he went right back to the old traditions of hyping the fixed-rail trolley at would run in a continuous loop past the rarely used Pritzlaff and taking credit for job creation that he had very little to do with.

"Our city’s future relies on more people living and working here," he said. "And a modern street car and fuel efficient buses are part of that.  So many will benefit from the trolley."

Really? Many will benefit from the trolley? It runs past the train station and main post office, will destroy parking east of the river and cost millions in rerouting costs for WeEnergies electric and steam lines. The only night spot it runs by is the Bradley Center, it will pass by the Milwaukee Market with its overpriced, beautiful people food and it will have problems in the snow, since it's tracks will be buried in slushy ice.

So much for new and innovative thinking.

Barrett then touted job creation in the city – 50 jobs coming from a water technology plant that is relocating from Pewaukee to the water research corridor on Reed Street. He said the Milwaukee Water Council was successful in luring these jobs to Milwaukee, but what about the city of Pewaukee?  Is it really a success when we poach jobs from a city within the metropolitan market?

But I guess it's a success, since the city is investing $5.5 million in infrastructure improvements in that area to lure more freshwater jobs to the city, a place Barrett affectionately called the "Fresh Coast."

By my calculations, that currently stands at $110,000 in city money for each of those jobs.

He also promoted his mayor's initiative – Milwaukee Homegrown – which is spending tax dollars to rehab homes, repurpose commercial buildings and encourage locally grown food resources. It's an online contest that could bring $5 million to the city if enough people vote for Barrett's wonderful ideas. 

This is what economic development in Milwaukee has come to; an online contest similar to the MLB All-Star ballot?

Barrett did highlight some potential job creation that seems to have started more in the minds of the private sector, than in some governmental bureaucracy. The potential Penzey's redevelopment of the vacant Northridge Shopping Center into a shipping hub and food lovers paradise, sprang from Bill Penzey's head, not the Granville Redevelopment Agency which has been putzing around with that blighted area for more than a decade.

Or how about the new Northwestern Mutual Life tower that is going to replace an aging office building in downtown Milwaukee? And the 700 new jobs that will go along with it? Even Barrett didn't try to take credit for that, but he did say the city will have a hand in demanding minority job quotas for the construction and demand minority training for positions within the company. 

Can't we just leave our successful, private companies alone to make their own decisions as to their construction or hiring needs?

Of course, Barrett did slam the state for cutting state aid to the city and forcing him to make due with less money. He said his office and the city council has done a marvelous job in maintaining city services, but he begged for more help (read cash) from the state and decried the proposed legislation to end the residency rule for city employees.

"Why is this the time to lift residency?" Barrett asked. "It is wrong for the fabric of our city, our neighborhoods and for our fiscal health."

Such faith Barrett has in the residents of the city, that if given the chance they would flee like lemmings to Mequon, Wauwatosa or Brookfield.  If the Mayor’s fears are true, that speaks volumes for the real "State of the City."

Finally, Barrett said the city and region needs to have a serious discussion about a new downtown arena to replace the aging Bradley Center (it is, afterall only notable stop on his toy train loop). 

"I want Milwaukee to be the home of the Bucks, they are an important asset to the city and state," he said. "But I will not support a city or county-only tax to fund it.  It must be regional funding, since the Bucks impact the region greatly."

And there he goes again with another old tradition - spending other people’s money to improve Milwaukee.

Hold on to your wallets, because Barrett is coming for them. 

Patti Breitigam-Wenzel is a veteran Wisconsin journalist who blogs at GovFreak.