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  • Quality of Life Alliance

In The Private Sector, Walker Would Have Been Fired By Now

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on March 24, 2009

The widely-respected and non-partisan group Public Policy Forum released the results of a study regarding the fiscal viability of Milwaukee County. The results are not pretty. And I do believe even then, the results understate the severity of the situation. (The actual study is in a pdf found here, but at the time of this writing, the Adobe reader is stating that the file has been damaged and is unreadable.)

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a story covering the report, and giving Walker’s spin on the issue. Unfortunately, the paper does not give us a lot of in depth reporting, but basically an outline of the report and Walker’s positioning.

The current fiscal crisis is based on three problems. The most obvious one is the pension scandal created by former County Executive Tom Ament. This obviously put a major crunch on the county’s budget in 2004, when the enhancers of the pension scandal kicked in and their was a mass retirement.

The second issue adding to this is the current global financial recession, which greatly drained the pension fund, requiring extra money needed to be provided by the County.

The third issue that greatly contributed to the problem is the current County Executive, Scott Walker. As stated above, Walker came into his current job with a big mess served up to him in the form of Ament’s pension scandal. However, he sought the job voluntarily and said that he would fix the pension mess and get the county headed back in the right direction. After seven long years, he has done neither.

The report from the PPF recommends a few things that need to be done to restore fiscal health to the county. These include:

We also conclude that year-to-year budget balancing is no longer a tenable strategy. Instead, what is needed is a comprehensive approach that considers all alternatives, from implementing new or enhanced local revenue sources; to eliminating, transferring or outsourcing programs and services that are not essential to the county’s core mission and that could be performed just as well by others; to selling or leasing assets to generate capital as a means of paying down liabilities or re-investing in other assets that must be retained.

Some of this, like the outsourcing, has been already done. The food services at the House of Correction and at the mental health complex have been privatized. Most of the security at the courthouses have been privatized. Most of the janitorial services have been privatized. The GAMP program is gone with the advent of BadgerCare. Many of the mandated services, like the Sheriff’s office, human services and the courts have been scaled back on a yearly basis.

However, there is much that could be done in regards to finding other revenue sources that Walker has willfully failed to pursue. There is the obvious raising of taxes, which I can’t imagine a lot of people would like, but may be a necessary evil. But there are also many less painful ways of gaining extra resources.

There is the sales tax. Despite Walker’s repeated efforts to prevent it from going to referendum, it was finally voted on last November. The people stated that they approved of the 1% sales tax and the benefits it would bring, including easing the strain for funding for the buses, the parks and the EMS. In the face of the proven benefits that places like Washington County has enjoyed from their sales tax increase, Walker refuses to pursue action by the state legislature to allow it to happen.

There is also the stimulus dollars. Walker knows darn well that the taxpayers of Milwaukee County will have to pay for these dollars whether we use them or not, but he doesn’t care. In his perpetual run for governor, Walker has decided to showboat the issue and has repeatedly flip flopped and weaseled his way around the stimulus dollars, thereby shortchanging all of us. He continues to obstruct the efforts of the County Board to pursue and utilize the full amount of stimulus dollars the county is eligible for. Needless to say, this money would have the double benefit of putting people to work and allowing for much of the desperately needed repairs to our infrastructure.

It would also be a good idea for Walker to actually stop appointing his cronies and campaign staffers to jobs they aren’t qualified to fill. Then maybe the county would be able to sell some of its properties, so that there isn’t an automatic multimillion dollar deficit in the budget.

PPF’s report has caused a lot of reaction from local officials and local bloggers. Milwaukee County Treasurer Dan Diliberti calls for a reform, including giving more power to the controller. County Board Chairman Lee Holloway calls for the formation of a long range steering committee, and shows his understandable nervousness at the thought of the state taking over the whole county. James Rowen and Zach Wisniewski have shared their own thoughts on the subject.

While local officials are trying to find viable solutions to the county’s economic woes, Walker, on the other hand, is too busy campaigning and sending out kudos to a company that is hundreds of miles from the place he is supposed to be paying attention to, namely Milwaukee County.

In the private sector, if you had a CEO that had deliberately put his company in financial straits while he was applying for another job and giving congratulatory memos on company letter head to one of the competitors, he wouldn’t be long for the job. The Board of Directors would have shown him the door long before it got to be of such a critical nature, threatening the very solvency of the company.

So when are we, the taxpayers, or if you will, the Board of Directors for Milwaukee County, going to show Walker the door?

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