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Crazy Talk From Joe Rice

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on September 17, 2009

I almost spit soda all over my monitor when I read this press release from Milwaukee County Supervisor Joe Rice:

Milwaukee County Supervisor Joseph Rice today expressed support for County Executive Scott Walker’s budget provisions which maintain core services in Milwaukee County without raising taxes.

Earlier this week the County Executive announced that he intends to maintain, and in some cases moderately increase, funding for safety net programs such as homeless shelters, disability, and other services relied upon by vulnerable Milwaukee County residents.

“This is welcome news from the County Executive who is to be commended for preserving core services in Milwaukee County despite the overwhelming budget deficit facing Milwaukee County,” Rice stated. “The County’s budget shortfalls, estimated at up to $90 million, require tough decisions and the County Executive appears to be fashioning a budget that respects both the neediest of populations and county taxpayers.”

The County Executive announced on separate occasions his intention to fully maintain funding for low income families, children and disabled individuals. His budget is anticipated to preserve core services and increase the Family Care Program to cover persons with disabilities between the ages 18-59 without raising taxes on county families at an economic juncture when they can ill afford it.

“Contrary to the recent assertions, the dire fiscal constraints and crises throughout Milwaukee County departments remain real and significant. To his credit, the County Executive’s recommended budget addresses this crisis in a way that will cause the least harm,” Rice added.

Just a few problems with your statements there, Joey. One of the biggest problems is the lack of truth to them.

First of all, Walker is not maintaining all of the services for the cognitively disabled and the mentally ill. In fact, Walker wants to close at least one ward at the mental health complex, putting violent and/or suicidal mentally ill people into the community without sufficient support or protection. The people that are at the mental health complex aren’t there just because it is a nice getaway. These people have been deemed by the courts to be a danger to themselves or to others, and so could be admitted to the mental health complex.

Another issue is that the safety net Rice refers to isn’t exactly a tax free proposition. Walker himself announce that he had gotten nearly $4 million in federal tax dollars to help bolster the safety net, but this is also a one time shot, and will have recurring costs after the initial federal grant is spent.

A third issue is that, yes, while the County has started the process that will allow the disabled to receive services, it was actually Governor Doyle that ordered it and is paying for it with state tax dollars. Given Walker’s repeated promise/threat to cut taxes and cut spending, one needs to seriously consider what he would do if he ever would be elected governor. Thank goodness that is unlikely.

On a related note, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this morning about the county’s concern that BadgerCare will not sufficiently pay for mental health services, thereby putting the burden on the County to pick up the slack. While there is some validity to those concerns, that is not the major county faces regarding the cost of the mental health services.

The bigger problem is related to the fact that Milwaukee County is no longer able to bill Medicare for the services they provide to people. For inpatient mental health services to be reimbursed at any level, it requires that the facility have a medical component to it, such as St. Francis Hospital does.

The County used to get around that issue by forming an alliance with the local medical providers, like Froedtert. The problem is that Walker, in his usual short-sighted way, had ruined that arrangement, claiming it was too expensive, and the County lost the ability to get reimbursed for the services it provides. Now, if a person comes to the mental health complex, either voluntarily or through an emergency detention by the police, all the services come out of the tax levy.

That is the main reason that we see stories of people being turned away from the complex, or being released early, only to go out and harm themselves or others, due to the lack of treatment and follow through, because the County just can’t afford it.

For the money Walker saved by allowing the accreditation and alliance with the medical hospital lapse is infinitesimal when compared to the costs to the taxpayers when compared to the cost for providing the services and for the damage done by untreated people.

This kind of fiscal irresponsibility has led to the financial problems the county finds itself in, and it will only be getting worse.


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