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Issue of the Week: Milwaukee County’s Ongoing Budget Deficits

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

Jul. 14, 2010
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Milwaukee County is running out of options to reduce its ongoing budget deficits, according to a new report by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Public Policy Forum (PPF). In its preview of the county’s 2011 budget, PPF finds that the county is walking into an estimated $20 million to $45 million budget hole—and that doesn’t include deferred maintenance (estimated to be $200 million in the parks alone), the still-unresolved employee concessions written into the 2010 budget, and challenges at the Mental Health Complex and at the Milwaukee County Transit System (estimated transit shortfall next year: about $10 million).

So what’s the county to do? The options are pretty limited, since the vast majority of the property tax levy is going to state-mandated functions like public safety, the courts and health and human services. The deficit is so big that it equals laying off 352 full-time employees or asking non-mandated services to bear the brunt of the cuts (cultural institutions, transit, EMS support to municipalities, and services for the disabled, homeless and incarcerated). On the other hand, instead of cutting, the county could raise revenues by raising the property tax and the wheel tax—two revenue sources that don’t require state approval. PPF estimates that the increase would equal roughly a $62.03 increase for a homeowner with a house valued at $150,000 and two cars.

While PPF has created models to help policy-makers sort out next year’s looming crisis, it also has strong words about the county’s inability to craft long-term solutions that require increased investment in the county. Instead, the Scott Walker administration and the county board have relied on short-term gimmicks, easy-to-cut programs and a living-on-a-credit-card mentality that will only get worse in the future.

Heroes of the Week

Local ‘Kids Who Care’ Scholarship Winners    

Last week, Kohl’s Department Stores awarded $1,000 scholarships toward higher education to more than 200 youth volunteers across the country through its “Kids Who Care” scholarship program. “These kids are doing remarkable work to benefit their local communities,” said Julie Gardner, Kohl’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “We feel privileged to be in a position to help support the continued education of deserving kids across the country who are making a real difference in the lives of others.”

Among area youth receiving the awards were Kevin Lusterio, 18, of Franklin, who serves as a volunteer tutor for the Boys & Girls Clubs, Nick Ruiz, 18, of New Berlin, who has volunteered at Mexican Fiesta for nine years, and Kristin Wollmer, 17, of Waterford, who volunteers with the Arthritis Foundation.

Jerk of the Week

‘Journal Sentinel’ Columnist Patrick McIlheran

After months of flogging Climategate, conservative Journal Sentinel columnist Patrick McIlheran just can’t let go. In case you missed it, so-called Climategate—last fall’s manufactured scandal in which hacked e-mails from British climate scientists allegedly showed that data was manipulated to support the fact that humans have an effect on global warming—has been thoroughly debunked by no less than five investigations. Yet McIlheran—not exactly an expert on scientific matters—just can’t admit that he was wrong about the trumped-up affair and set the record straight. First, he denied pumping the scandal, saying he merely linked to critiques of the scientists’ work. Then he said he still has doubts about global warming. No wonder why McIlheran (alongside Joe the Plumber) won an award in March from Americans for Prosperity, the global-warming-denying Astro-turf organization funded by Big Oil. Neither one of them is bothered by those pesky things called facts.

A Voice of Reason

Bucyrus CEO Tim Sullivan

State GOP chief Reince Priebus just got called out for lying about Sen. Russ Feingold’s involvement in a federal decision to save jobs at the South Milwaukee-based Bucyrus Corp. While Priebus spun a story that Feingold “was silent” on the deal and didn’t seem to care about the jobs, Bucyrus CEO Tim Sullivan rose above the politics and set the record straight. “The facts do not support this assertion,” Sullivan stated, because Feingold had fought for Bucyrus when communicating with federal bankers. Sullivan deserves kudos for his efforts to be fair and, most importantly, accurate.

Correction: The July 8 Hero of the Week identified Erik Lindberg as a principal planner of Power Down Week. Though Lindberg is a member of Transition Milwaukee, credit should go to Sarah Moore and a group of planners. Transition Milwaukee co-founders include Nicole Bickham, Jessica Cohodes, Christie Mole and Tom Brandstetter.


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