Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Plutocracy of Milwaukee

During his entire term as Milwaukee County Executive, Scott Walker had an acrimonious relationship with the Milwaukee County Board.  If he wasn't blaming the unions for all the woes he brought upon the county, he was blaming the county board.

As one might imagine, Walker's opposition to the board was reinforced by the conservative media.  The local newspaper often misrepresented the facts and would purposely not acknowledge statements from board members, especially the liberal ones.  Squawk radio was even worse, blaming them for everything and anything, from taxes to a hangnail.

This eventually led to a call to abolish Milwaukee County government altogether.  The call for this was led by Sheldon Lubar, a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC), which is a group of plutocrats and power brokers who think that they know better than the people on how the people should live their lives.

To support their argument, GMC hired the Public Policy Forum to craft a "report" on why the county government should be dissolved and the best way to do it.  They also joined forces with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to form a front group called My Milwaukee (which they subsequently changed to "Make It Your Milwaukee").  They used this group, as well as their own, to lobby for the changes they wanted.  In a nutshell, they want to privatize what services they can, such as the airport, the zoo, the parks and the transit system. What they can't privatize, they want to dump on the municipalities or back on the state.

However, Walker was too political savvy to actually try to remove the Milwaukee County Board.  He knew he needed a political foil to blame for all of his failures.

Current County Executive Chris Abele has picked up where Walker left off, but without the same political savviness.  Abele's agenda is different from Walker's as well.  Where Walker wanted to use Milwaukee County as a political stepping stone, Abele wants to follow through with the GMC agenda of eradicating or at least minimizing county government.

To meet that end, Abele has teamed up with a former county supervisor, newly elected State Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R-Teabagistan), who is drafting legislation to slash the salaries of his former colleagues from the current $50,000 to $15,000 and cut the board's operating budget of about $6.5 million to $1 million.  

There is so much wrong with this whole stinking mess that it is intimidating in where to start.  Not only is this unnecessary, but it is actually maleficent in its scope.

Their claims that the supervisors are overpaid is bunk.  Across Wisconsin, county supervisors are paid about a dollar per person in their district.  A supervisor in a rural county might only make $15,000 per year, but they only represent about 15,000 people.  When they downsized the board about a decade ago, they increased each district to about 50,000 people, hence their salary.

Another one of their arguments is that Milwaukee is the only county in the state with a full time board.  Yeah, so?  Milwaukee is also the only county with a House of Correction and a mental health complex.  It also has the most people, the largest zoo, the largest airport and a whole slew of other things that other counties don't have.

The real agenda behind this move is to handcuff the board and keep it from preventing Abele really giving the shaft to the citizens and the taxpayers.  Right now, the board is able to analyze Abele's proposals and correct or reject the bad ones, of which there is many.  If you think things are bad now, wait.  Who knows what kind of garbage Abele will be slipping past the reduced board.

By cutting the supervisors' salaries, this forces any supervisor to treat it as a secondary job.  Examples abound across the state of what happens when the supervisors or other elected officials are part-timers.  People miss meetings, are unable to understand what they are voting for, and are unavailable for their constituents.  In Milwaukee, we had Paul Cesarz has a shining example of that.

What could be even more pernicious to the county would be supervisors like Sanfelippo, who used his position to vote for increases in the amount of money the county would pay his cab company for providing rides for the elderly and disabled.

To add to this, by cutting the operating budget so deeply, it would eliminate not only the part time receptionists and aides, but also eliminate the people that analyze bills and do research for transit, the parks and the budget.  It would also eliminate some of the transcriptionists that record meetings and votes.  So much for transparency in government.

If this bill is allowed to pass and makes it past the voters, Abele will be able to crow about having done what even Walker couldn't do.  The destruction of Milwaukee County and ensuring that Democrats will never hold a majority for another generation.

What a guy.


  1. Chris, with all due respect for your illuminating perspective. I would suggest you re-read the Public Policy Forum's analysis of County Government. I did and I attended the executive briefing. I do not believe it makes the case for dismantling County Government, because it lays out the difficulties (who will assume what part of County debt) in parceling out function to another (public or private) institution. In fact, this might be the best time for all of us to read it again.

    1. Oh, the report does point that out, but also states ways to work with that issue. It also advocates for the privatization of the parks, the transit system, the airport and the zoo as well as many of the services the county currently offers.

      Look at the way Abele wants to dump county responsibilities on the city, such as the park patrols and the cell phone emergency calls.

  2. There is no possible way to spin this except that Madison republican legislators are taking away local control!

    Which is not surprising because they have done it numerous times already.

  3. When you say privatization of the parks? How so? Or privatization of the transit system? How so? In the case of transit if you mean they are pushing for an RTA well then yes I'm pretty sure they are, as we all should be. We desperately need an RTA to take over transit.

    An how was it bad to have MPD police you know the City of Milwaukee, whether it be a park or a street the areas were in the city's boundaries. Seemed far to logical. A buddy of mine tells the story of calling 911 after breaking up a fight. The victim was in the park, he was calling from the street... oh who to send...ridiculous.