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Battle of the Budgets: Barrett Wins, But Barely

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on April 30, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, and gubernatorial candidate, crowed about coming up with an unconfirmed $9 million surplus in the 2009 budget for Milwaukee County.

Predictably, City of Milwaukee Mayor, and gubernatorial candidate, Tom Barrett announced that the city has a $23 million surplus from last year. Barrett also boasted of having no debt and a fully funded pension, as well as a drop in police overtime.

Now, when Walker made his proclamation, I was critical of his claim and and pointed out that the County actually has a debt in the area of $1 billion. I further pointed out that county has a slew of issues to contend with such as a parks system falling into decay, a courthouse falling apart, and a transit system that is about to be crippled.

The City of Milwaukee has its own issues. Many of the roads are in terrible shape and in desperate need of being resurfaced. The libraries are looking at cut backs in services.

Given all the work that has to be done, I don’t see how either Barrett or Walker can really claim that they have a surplus.

That said, the edge in the Battle of the Budget would have to go to Barrett and the City of Milwaukee.

The city doesn’t have the outstanding mountain of debt that Walker has bestowed upon the county by his refusal to fully fund the pension fund.

An example would be the two pension funds. Barrett has reported that the city’s pension fund is fully funded. Walker took out a risky pension obligation bond scheme to cover more than $300 million, but even that only covered half of what is owned. A study from the Public Policy Forum showed that one of the leading contributions to this deficit is Walker’s willful failure to fully meet pension obligations each year.

Furthermore, Barrett sat down with AFSCME and worked out a contract in which the city did get some concession for the unions, including four days of furloughs. Due to this, Barrett was able to present a balanced budget for 2010.

Walker, on the other hand, has refused to meet with the union for twenty months, choosing instead to try to dictate conditions through the media and through the budget, including mandating three different tiers of furloughs, going from eight days up to as high on 22 days. Instead of concessions, Walker has given the county a number of lawsuits that tax payer money is being spent on defending against and a budget with a built in $17 million deficit.

The City Hall just had a major face lift. The County Courthouse is literally falling down around are ears.

The comparisons could go on for a long time, but each one would show the city to be in a better position than the county.

To summarize, neither Tom Barrett nor Scott Walker should be going around boasting about having a surplus when their respective governments have a lot of work that needs to be done. However, it is undeniable that the City of Milwaukee, under Barrett’s leadership, is in a much more fiscally secure place than the Walker-led County, which is in an untenable situation, literally bordering on bankruptcy.


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