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Walker Promises The Sun and The Moon While He Throws Us Into A Hole

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on October 6, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

Even though it was just announced that Walker has led Milwaukee County into a budgetary hole more than $7 million deep, he has been leaking selected parts of his 2011 budget proposal which promises us the sun and the moon.

Included in these promises is $5.5 million for the mental health complex.  He claims that he would use this money to hire 47 more staff, increase training, and beef up the outpatient services.  As we noted earlier, it wouldn’t be surprising if there are catches to this promise, such as trying to privatize the community support and targeted case management programs, and play other budgetary games to make up for the extra money.

Walker has also promised $15 million to repair the county buildings, including O’Donnell Park, which he has neglected for years.  He claims that the money would come from stopping the transformation of the two indoor pools into water parks.  Members of the County Board are already showing resistance to this suggestion.  Supervisor Mayo called it “voodoo economics” and Supervisor Dimitrijevic called it “foolish” and “baffling.”

The most recent promise is that Walker will not raise fares for the general routes nor cut any of the paratransit services.  Walker did say that he would raise the rates for some of the special routes, like the Freeway Flyers going to Summerfest and ethnic festivals.  He has also admitted that there would be unspecified reductions in route frequencies.

Walker’s transformation on transit might be do to the pressure we have been putting on him to follow the advice of the Public Policy Forum.  He could have also seen which way the public’s desires are going when the people in Ozaukee County’s Port Washington fought fiercely to preserve their public transportation taxi.

A couple of things to watch with the transportation part of the budget include the fact that the Ozaukee County Express is up for bid.  Traditionally, MCTS has run this, but insiders think that they may cut this loose in an effort to make it seem like they are cutting costs.

Another thing to watch is that MCTS is applying for special funding from the state to restore one of the call center positions which were cut by Walker before.  It is our understanding that the call center is dropping about one third of the calls coming into the center.

Improvements to the safety of our buildings, improving the mental health system and not raising fares are all worthy goals.  On top of that, Walker is also promising to cut the tax levy by $1 million.

But the question is how is he going to pay for all of this.  We know that now, for the first time in years, he actually has a qualified economic development director, he will be trying to sell of some of the county properties.  We know that one of them is Crystal Ridge in Franklin.  I would also expect him to try to sell O’Donnell Park, since he’s been pushing for that for years, and now the tragedy that his neglect has contributed to gives him the perfect chance to do that.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try to privatize more things and jobs, like the airport and the zoo, as well as the parks system.

But Supervisor John Weishan suspects that Walker will try to do the same thing that I have pointed out before:

Supervisor John Weishan Jr. predicted Walker would turn to additional employee wage-and-benefit concessions as a way to keep his promises to avoid transit fare increases or major cuts, to cut next year’s tax levy by $1 million and to add millions in extra funding for mental health.

The 2010 county budget approved by Walker and the County Board relied on more than $20 million in employee concessions, but most have not yet materialized because the county’s largest unions have not agreed to them. Employee furloughs have partly filled the gap, with some workers forced to take as many as 26 unpaid days off.

Weishan said Walker’s strategy of forcing unions to take the concessions – higher health care and pension costs and a higher retirement age – didn’t work because many union workers and leaders were able to swallow the furlough cuts.

What Weishan is referring to is section 1972, which deals with employee benefits and compensation.  I have pointed out before that Walker has discovered that this is a wonderful dumping grounds for him and he can stick whatever holes he wants in there and then blame the union for not accepting whatever he throws in there.  In this way, Walker is able to maintain his charade of being fiscally responsible and tough on the unions at the same time.

Another safe bet is that Walker, as he has done in each and every of his previous budgets, is counting on the County Board to act like the adults and fix the mess of a budget he is going to drop on their laps on Thursday.

But one thing that I can say with all certainty is that when we really need true leadership, we will only get political gamemanship, for which we will all be paying for, in more ways than one, for years to come.


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