In another example of life imitating art, the city of Oshkosh is seeing a scene from the classic novel Don Quixote play out on its Common Council. Where the title character of the novel sets his attack on windmills--believing them to be dragons, our own Mayor Steve Cummings is going on the warpath against big box retailers. In Tuesday night's meeting, Mayor Quixote--I mean Cummings--went on a diatribe bashing the many stores along the Interstate 41 corridor for the size of their buildings, their "ugly" exteriors, their "acres of blacktop" and their desire to pay as little in taxes as possible. Quixote--err Cummings--even kept up the "reptile enemy" theme by comparing the retailers to "boa constrictors"--squeezing the life out of Oshkosh. He--and other members of the Council--then encouraged citizens to reject shopping at the big boxes and instead only support "local businesses".
But I have to ask Mayor Quixote--I mean Cummings--what his plan would be for replacing all of his hated big boxes? How would he propose to feed our 60-thousand residents without WalMart, Festival or Pick n Save stores? Your going to need a lot of farmers markets to meet that demand. Or are we turning the properties along the frontage roads into "community gardens" where 21st century Americans are forced to partake in subsistence farming? Where would Oshkosh residents get their clothing? The second-hand shops? Rummage sales? The local "adult lingerie" shop?
And if the I41 corridor isn't going to be farm fields, what is the Mayor's vision for that area? Weed infested fields interspersed with retention ponds? That should get plenty of people excited about living or moving their business to Oshkosh.
Mayor Quixote--oops, Cummings--also claims that the big boxes pay no taxes. Yet they still generate plenty of tax revenue. How would he replace the 5% sales tax that is collected on the billions of dollars spent in those stores every year? How would he replace the payroll taxes and social security taxes and Medicaid taxes collected from the paychecks of those thousands of workers. Maybe they don't pay enough in property taxes for his tastes--but those wages do pay a lot of property taxes on homes throughout the city.
The Mayor even had his own Sancho Panza riding shotgun with him Tuesday night, as fellow Councillor Caroline Panske proudly declared that she would never do business with Time Warner Cable (their property tax exemption is what prompted this whole "anti-big business" tirade). She instead uses the internet and wi-fi at the public library and at city hall--at taxpayers' expense. And nobody seemed to grasp the irony that they were attacking Time-Warner Cable's "greediness" on a public access TV channel provided at no cost (and equipped by) Time-Warner Cable.
What makes this entire attack disingenuous is that all of those Councillors who took turns bashing the big boxes could have prevented them from building in Oshkosh in the first place. Where was Mayor Quixote--dang it, Cummings--"NO" vote on construction of Dick's Sporting Goods? Or Ross Dress For Less? Where was Caroline Panske's emotional testimony before the city Plan Commission before it approved the WalMart Supercenter project a decade ago? Where was Kyle Clark's one-man protest along Washburn Street with signs reading "Hell No, Lowe's Must Go!"?
All I can say is that when Mayor Steve Cummings runs for re-election, he had better not take any credit for the growth of businesses along the I-41 corridor. In fact, he should run on an anti-big box platform. "No Kohls yesterday, No Kohls today, No Kohls Ever!!" Maybe Rob Kleman from the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce can take His Honor along with him to those site selector conferences so he can look those retailers in the eye and tell them "We have no interest in having you come to our city unless you are willing to pay the MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF TAXES we believe you should have to pay!"
In the meantime, the DOT might want to consider adding one more lane to I41 to accommodate the additional traffic of Oshkosh residents driving to Neenah, Appleton and Fond du Lac to do their shopping and to go to work.