Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Some Thoughts On The County Budget

Last night, I reported on the events as the Milwaukee County Board amended and adopted the 2009 Budget. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had their version of in this morning's paper. The County Board has issued their press release, and Walker, predictably, has announced that he wants to put everything back up for sale.

Now that I've had a day to reflect, and review by notes, here are a few thoughts on the budget thus far, in no particular order.

Last night I stated that I thought the budget wasn't bad, but wasn't great. As I reread the budget and all that had happened, and what failed to happen, the budget actually does stink worse than the corpse flower at the museum. But in fairness to the board, they were given a pile of garbage to work with, and tried to do what they could (for the most part). It had to be difficult to work around all those "For Sale" signs Walker put on everything.

Supervisor DeBruin
raised the question of why Walker's Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli and the other top members of Walker's team should get raises while they are laying off hundreds of workers. She also offered an amendment that would have frozen the wages of the top managers and political appointees of Walker, but he Board inexplicably failed to pass it. Heck, the amendment was such a no brainer that even Jeff Wagner agreed it was a good idea.

Supervisor Weishan was quite outspoken about his outrage at Walker's failure to fulfill his duties. When they were discussing putting the House of Correction under the control of the Sheriff's Office, Weishan opposed the plan saying that Walker was "running away from his responsibility" for the failure the HOC had become last year. When they were talking about whether to sell off, I mean privatize, the public assistance call center, Weishan correctly stated that the "County Executive was abdicating responsibility and saying he cannot manage."

Like Debruin, Weishan also had a wonderful proposal that never made it off the floor. Weishan had offered an amendment that would have required department heads to return the money for funded positions that they never filled. This stems from the 717 positions that went unfilled this year, but had been fully funded in the budget.

As I mentioned before, the call center was a hot topic in yesterday's hearing. The board debated about this more than any of the other amendments. Almost every single member of the board complained that they were receiving too many phone calls complaining about the call center. Many of the Supervisors also pointed out that Walker and his team were mismanaging the center by filling half of the empty positions. It was also pointed out that Walker's plan would actually cut the number of case workers that could resolve the problem by two thirds and would end up prolonging the wait time people would have to endure before getting help.

Unfortunately, too many Supervisors didn't care who's fault it was. Supervisor Schmitt went so far as to say that "who's responsible is not a priority." All they cared about was what was the fastest way to stop getting those pesky phone calls asking them to do their job by making sure that the department heads were doing their jobs.

Also alarming was the winking and nodding that was going on between Supervisor Jursik and representative of the private agencies that wanted to gobble up County assets and jobs as the debate went on. After the amendment passed, albeit just barely, the private agency folks got up and huffed out of the room.

Would someone please explain to me why year after year after year, Walker makes the same budget recommendations like privatizing the parks. closing the farm and fish hatchery at the HOC, and such, when he knows it's not going anywhere. Does he think that if he tries enough times, it will actually happen? Or is it that he forgets? Or is it that he is just phoning his part in to look good for his Quixotic gubernatorial race?

Will Walker and his allies on the board (Cesarz, Rice and Sanfellipo) go out and deliver Christmas fruit baskets to all the people they laid off for no good reason?

Supervisor Broderick brought up an interesting point. He stated that it was obvious that Walker was not invested in Milwaukee County. He pointed out that while everyone in the room spent Election night last week here in the county, Walker was way over the county line, trying to get closer to Madison.

Weishan, when discussing whether to adopt the overall budget pointed out that "Walker is not a privatizer, he's a profiteer. He's trying to take advantage of selling things for campaign donations." Other Supervisors, including Chairman Holloway have made similar statements. Walker, in today's article in MSJ tried to shift the blame:
Holloway said Walker pushed for privatization as a way to leverage campaign contributions. Walker dismissed the charge as ridiculous and said supervisors blocking his privatization efforts were beholden to their union support. Walker has pushed for outsourcing since he first won the county executive post in 2002 and emphasized it in his re-election campaign earlier this year.
Walker's assertions are demonstratively false. The County Board threw a couple hundred workers to the wolves in this budget. I have yet to see Walker throw one potential campaign donor out.

But then again, honesty has never been one of Walker's long suits. It would get in the way of his one trick pony that he is trying to ride to Madison.


  1. How can you blame Walker for the budget that was passed? Does he that much support on the board? I don't think so. Blame the board for their bad budget (in your opinion)

  2. Dan,

    Walker gave them the base budget proposal to work with, and there was only so much they could do with it. In other words, Walker gave them the pig, and the Board had to put the lipstick on it.