Mayor Dave Cieslewicz gave his state of the city speech a few hours ago. As would be expected, Madison's chief executive used the address mainly to discuss Madison's economy and his economic agenda for the upcoming year.
He started off by making some strong points:
Madison's unemployment rate of 5.2%, while higher than in normal times, is the lowest in the state and well below the national rate.
For the first time in modern history, Madison is experiencing an actual decline in city property values this year. But our decline of 1.8% in residential home values is far less than the national average of 6.5%, and it pales in comparison to cities around the country.
Crime is low and decreasing in Madison. In fact, crime is 17% lower than it was in 1996 when Money Magazine called us the best place to live in America.
That's definitely not the first time he's used the "Money Magazine" talking point, and it's worth asking why it should be considered such an authoritative judge of quality of life. However, as far as rhetoric goes, using it is not a bad way to put Madison's reputation in perspective.
After the introduction, he touted what he considers successes on the Edgewater and Central Library developments. The way he chose to tip his hat to the opposition, though, was bizarre.
Bob Dunn deserves credit for his fortitude, but let's not forget that Fred Mohs has been investing in and maintaining his properties on Mansion Hill for decades. The process was arduous, but I respect everyone who spoke up because they all were voicing their ideas about what was best for our city.
That Fred Mohs was mentioned by name shows to what extent his influence reaches in Madison politics. It may have been a good move by the mayor to be conciliatory towards him and his allies in Capitol Neighborhoods Inc., however, it's surprising that he didn't also extend some remarks to opponents outside of the business community, such as the Progressive Dane alders and activists who opposed the project. Mohs is not typically a popular figure in that crowd, and they might resent that he was the one singled out as fighting for "what was best for our city." This fits into the increasingly popular narrative among city progressives, which says the mayor has become too cozy with the establishment and business community at the expense of his progressive roots.
He also used the Edgewater to advocate for a reformed process to approve development projects.
So, I have asked the business community and labor to come together to recommend changes to our process. I will ask our Economic Development Commission to vet those changes over the summer. I hope that we can use the EDC as a forum for this discussion and to gain input from the community at large.
You have to believe the mayor already has an idea for what changes he'd like to say put in place. What is the most cumbersome part of the process? The Landmarks Commission? What else is there to reform? They're not picking up the phone at the moment at the mayor's office, however, it's unlikely for the mayor to give specific suggestions until he gains "input" from the community. Otherwise, he'll be accused of making a power-grab. Actually, that will happen anyways.
The mayor also laid out an aggressive transit agenda, which has always been one of his passions:
Linked to a fully functioning intermodal station that should be at the center of Public Market Square is a successful Regional Transit Authority. The RTA has been formed, but it means little unless it can access the half cent sales tax that will fund its work. I support moving forward on the referendum to levy the sales tax this November.
Notice the word "November." There is a big difference between that and an undefined date in the future. A November ballot represents the best chance for supporters of the RTA, assuming that most Dane County voters will casually vote in favor of the measure at the polls. The campaign to mobilize supporters on a spring ballot would be much more difficult, and there would be a serious threat of a strong anti-tax campaign to defeat regional transit for years to come.
This little economic anecdote earned some rolled eyes:
What I learned in the Dutch history museum has some applicability back here in Madison. It turns out that tulips are not native to the Netherlands. They were imported from Turkey in the 16th century, and the Dutch took to them immediately. In fact, rare tulip bulbs became so in demand that an entire market sprang up around them, and fortunes were amassed based on nothing more than the perceived value of the tulip bulb.
But it all came crashing down in 1637 when the Dutch held a tulip bulb auction and nobody bid. Overnight, the value of tulips plunged, fortunes were wiped out and the Dutch economy toppled into a deep recession all because people's ideas about the value of a plant changed. Substitute home values for tulips, and you can see that what happened in the Netherlands in the 17th century is not unlike what happened in the United States in the last few years.
I actually didn't think it was that bad. But what can I say, I'm a history major, and frankly, my favorite art exhibit during my time in Europe showcased a variety of paintings of the Dutch empire during the 17th century.