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LAIC Begs Lake County Commission for Money Today, 12:15 p.m.

[Fair warning: I'm going to use some coarse language at the end of this post.]

The Lake Area Improvement Corporation extends its begging for taxpayer handouts to Lake County taxpayers today. At 12:15 this afternoon (Tuesday), the Lake County Commission has a budget appointment with the LAIC, likely represented by its executive director Dwaine Chapel. Mr. Chapel will likely repeat the request he made of the Madison City Commission to continue throwing money at failed economic development efforts.

Permit me to remind the commissioners that, having given money to the LAIC in the past, they are empowered by law to inspect all books and records of the organization.

Below is my letter to the Lake County Commission, encouraging them to impose some public accountability on the LAIC.

To the members of the Lake County Commission:

I see that the Lake Area Improvement Corporation will be presenting its request for taxpayer funding to the Lake County Commission today at 12:15. I will be on the road today, but I want to offer my input on this request.

The LAIC has previously received $25,000 annual subsidies from Lake County taxpayers. If I came to the commission and requested $25,000, I would expect the commission to ask me for details on what I intended to do with that money. I would expect commissioners to set strict conditions on how I use that public money. I would expect commissioners to expect me to offer clear metrics of success for my use of that money.

As I outlined in a letter to the editor of the Madison Daily Leader last week, the LAIC has failed to achieve three of the major goals of its five-year Forward Madison program. Since the inception of the LAIC's program in 2006, Lake County has not added jobs. Our population has not increased, Madison's sales tax revenue has stayed mostly flat.

These three metrics were named specifically in the promises made by the LAIC in 2006. It received significant taxpayer support to achieve those goals. It did not achieve those goals.

Before the LAIC receives any more of our tax dollars, the commission should demand a clear and public explanation of why the LAIC failed to realize its Forward Madison goals, what the LAIC has learned from that failure, and how it will do things differently in the future. If the county receives sufficient explanation along those lines, the county should consider granting the LAIC funding only if the LAIC is willing to comply with clear performance benchmarks (such as taxpayer funding based on specific numbers of jobs created or sales tax revenue generated, connected with clear evidence to specific LAIC efforts).

Absent such accountability from the LAIC, the county commission should deny the LAIC another handout and instead spend our tax dollars on public projects with more immediate and concrete benefit, such as repairing county roads and culverts.

I have heard from various quarters that the LAIC thinks I'm critical of them because I want to destroy Madison's economy. Far from it. I am critical of the LAIC specifically because they seem not to be helping Madison grow. They're shrugging passively at the decline of retail in Madison. And their unwillingness to open the books, present evidence to back their claims, and engage interested citizens in open, constructive dialogue suggest an unwillingness to recognize and learn from mistakes. If the LAIC won't admit and analyze its failures, it and the local economy will continue to fail. And taxpayers should not throw their money after failure.

I hope the Lake County Commission will use the LAIC's funding request as an opportunity to push the LAIC for more accountability of its use of public funds.

Related: Professor Mankiw at Harvard gets a citation in this paper, which provides an alternate explanation for Madison's economic stagnation. Professor Tatu Westling of the University of Helsinki finds significant negative correlation between economic growth and the average size of the male sex organ:

Second, the average growth rates from 1960 to 1985 are found to be negatively correlated with the sizes of male organs: unit centimetre increase in its physical dimension is found to reduce GDP growth by 5 to 7% between 1960 and 1985. Furthermore, quite remarkable is the nding that male organ alone can explain 20% of the between-country variation in GDP growth rates between 1960 and 1985. Regarding the relative importance of political institutions in shaping economic development, it seems that male organ is more strongly associated with GDP growth than country's political regime type [Tatu Westling, "Male Organ and Economic Growth: Does Size Matter?" Helsinki Center of Economic Research, Discussion Paper No. 335, July 2011].

If Westling's "male-organ hypothesis" translates from the country level to the local level, then we may have our answer to Madison's flagging economic growth: we have too many big wienies in town.