April 30. 2013 10:01AM

An option for Herb Kohl

By Dennis Ellmaurer

  
The cacophony regarding a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks is swelling. One side says the taxpayer needs to belly up again like we did with Miller Park. Just let the 0.1% stadium district sales tax ride after it expires in 2017. No one even notices this insidious little tax, the logic goes.

The other side wonders why ordinary folks, with no love of basketball, rock concerts or monster truck shows, should foot the bill for a bunch of rich athletes and entertainers and one super-rich owner. This is a private, for profit business, after all. What business does the government have subsidizing private businesses?

This is a PR nightmare playing out before our very eyes…again. The Seligs threatened, whined and cajoled their way to a new stadium in 2001. State Senator George Petak of Racine was thrown out of office after casting the deciding vote in the bitter sales tax battle.

There is an alternative that Senator Kohl might consider. An alternative that a few Wisconsin companies have already found beneficial.

Harry Dennis, the owner of TEC Wisconsin, devised a succession plan that puts the company in a trust upon his death. The trust is managed by an “advisory panel” with the intent of carrying on the corporate mission in perpetuity. The company is still intended to make money. It continues as a private entity. There are, however, essentially no owners. Schneider National in Green Bay has a similar non-ownership succession set up. The Green Bay Packers are similarly “owner-free.” The Packers make a lot of money. They had little trouble finding funding sources for the $300 million renovation of Lambeau Field in 2000. Brown County residents even voted to tax themselves with a 0.5 percent county sales tax.

The downside is that Senator Kohl’s estate takes a financial hit. Unlike the Seligs who took the subsidy and then sold the company, the trust would own the company (with certain provisions)…forever. While the trust option puts a little less money in the senator’s estate, it also establishes a legacy that would make him nearly immortal. And he might just get the new arena without the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Dennis Ellmaurer is a management consultant who works primarily as a TEC chairman, leading three CEO mastermind groups in southeastern Wisconsin. He can be reached at 414-271-5780 or

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