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I-94 Expansion, Foxconn, Out-Of-State Landlords: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes Answers Your Questions

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Dylan Buell
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Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes speaks to the crowd during the 48th Annual Juneteenth Day Festival on June 19, 2019 in Milwaukee.

There's a lot going on in Wisconsin politics — a proposed expansion of I-94, a new deal between the state and Foxconn Technology Group, and a competitive and difficult housing market.

To unpack some of these issues, Lake Effect’s Joy Powers invited listeners to submit questions to ask Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes to learn more about his and the governor’s work. Here are his answers:

Why is the state pursuing an expansion of I-94 on the west side of Milwaukee despite local leaders opposing parts the project?

“The intention of the expansion is to repair some of the parts of I-94 and that corridor that make safety an issue, and I absolutely support making sure that we repair the broken parts, the pieces that create unsafe driving conditions, and I think that is where the point of contention is, is where does repair start and where does expansion begin,” says Barnes.

Listen: Gov. Evers Has Unusual Supporters, Vocal Critics For His Plan To Expand Milwaukee's I-94 Freeway

While he supports the repairs, he says he sympathizes with local leaders about the possible issues with expanding the highway. As a state legislator, Barnes was an opponent of a similar plan put forth by former Republican Governor Scott Walker.

Can you unpack the new deal reached between Governor Tony Evers and Foxconn Technology Group?

“The new deal is completely slimmed down,” he says. “We’re talking about a total of $2.8 billion to what is now $80 million, and I think it’s also important to recognize local government has also been paying the price already. There’s been so much money spent on this project that any person with even just a rudimentary understanding of economic development would have seen this as something that would have been a guaranteed failure.”

Listen: WEDC Board Approves What Evers Says Is A $2.77 Billion Reduction In Foxconn's Incentive Package

He says the new deal treats Foxconn like any other business in Wisconsin and ensures that the company won’t receive any taxpayer dollars until jobs are created.

What is the state doing to protect renters and communities from the growing number of out-of-state landlords in Milwaukee?

Listen: Increase In Out-Of-State Landlords Purchasing Property In Milwaukee Changing Neighborhoods

“The action is best handled at the local level; we want to be able to support — this is not trying to walk away from any responsibility cause I share these concerns. A lot of folks look at the state of Wisconsin or the city of Milwaukee as just an opportunity for them to get rich quick or if they’re already rich, see this as an opportunity to take in more wealth by taking advantage of communities,” he says. “[Out-of-state landlords buying large numbers of properties] can potentially artificially inflate property values which then impact longterm, longtime residents and homeowners, and could potentially price them out of communities that they’ve spent their entire lives in.”

What are you and the Governor doing to advocate for giving Milwaukee County power over its own sales tax?

“Personally, this is an issue I tried to take on as a member of the Legislature but as long as that anti-Milwaukee sentiment exists especially with the leadership of the majority party in the Legislature, you know it’s going to be tough,” he says. “The cost of services in Milwaukee County, including some of the state mandates be it jail or court costs, are about $20 million more per year than what’s collected in property tax. So, it sort of feels like people want to intentionally drain Milwaukee of resources."

Do you think former Minneapolis police officer Derrick Chauvin being found guilty will have reverberations in Wisconsin?

“It should put people on high alert that you can’t take advantage of your job, of your position, right like I don’t know any other type of employment, especially in public service whether it’s appointed, elected or just civil service where you are able to operate in a way that puts people’s lives at risk,” he says.

Barnes points to Gov. Evers’ update to the state’s law enforcement use of force policy as a necessary step that recognizes that most policing is done at the local level.

He also doesn’t see the Chauvin decision as a “cause for celebration” but a step in the right direction.

“I want to remind people that right after, after George Floyd was Jacob Blake’s shooting and it seemed like at that point where folks were marching, organizing all across the state, all across this country, we had a police officer who still thought it was OK to shoot somebody seven, eight times in the back and now we have this result. So I don’t know what the next thing is, I personally don’t think that, that officer should be back on the streets because he showed not great decision making when watching that video. But hopefully that Chauvin trial will be something that helps us turn the page as a society.”

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