Rep. Sanfelippo Says Full-Speed Ahead
His bill to downsize county government will be introduced next week and he predicts it will pass.
No one has ever accused me of excessive optimism but I’m a veritable Pollyanna compared to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as to whether a bill downsizing the Milwaukee County Board will get passed. After the JS did a story saying quick action by the state legislature was “unlikely” on the bill, I did a column predicting the bill actually had a good chance of passage.
Last Friday, JS reporter Steve Schultze did a story whose original version seemed to suggest Sanfelippo would delay his bill. That’s how I read it, and that’s how Sanfelippo read it. In fact, he called Schultze to complain that “your story makes it look like I’m not going ahead with my bill.” Sanfelippo says Schultze then made changes in the story, which is the one you’ll now find online. (Readers might be better served if the newspaper noted any changes made in the story.)
Sanfelippo could hardly be clearer about his intentions. “There is no way in hell I am going to slow down the bill,” he says. “I am going forward and getting this passed.”
He has agreed to delay a separate bill calling for a county referendum on whether supervisors should be reduced to part-time pay. But his bill to reform county government by cutting the budget for the county board to just .04 percent of the county tax levy will be introduced as soon as next week. The language will be amended so the legacy costs of benefits for retirees who worked for the board will not be included as part of the county board budget, to meet objections about that, Sanfelippo says.
“They (board members) are going to have plenty of money to operate in order to get things done.”
Within that budget, Sanfelippo says, board members will have “wiggle room” in terms of what supportive staff they decide to eliminate, and whether to cut their own pay to a part-time salary.
Sanfelippo says he expects that bill to pass the assembly, but would entertain suggestions from county board members during the normal delays that occur between assembly passage and the senate taking up the bill. But the end result, he says, must significantly downsize the board. “There are no brakes being put on this bill. I guarantee the bill will pass. I am going to have a broad coalition on this.”
Schultze’s story has often referred to unnamed “critics” or “opponents” of the bill. But who, besides the board and their staff, are these people? The key defenders the board needs to enlist are the Democratic legislators from Milwaukee County, and while some may vote against the bill, who outside of Sen. Chris Larson (a former supervisor with friends on the board) has stepped forward to publicly oppose this bill? Given the big margins in the 12 suburbs (including liberal-leaning Shorewood) that voted in favor of reducing the board’s size in 2012 referendums, I’m guessing most legislators aren’t eager to be the poster child for preserving a full-time county board.
Indeed, when Mike Gousha invited Sanfelippo to his interview show to discuss the bill, Gousha apparently couldn’t find any Milwaukee Democrat to oppose the proposal. (State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, the Dane County Democrat, eventually agreed to appear as an opponent.)
So why then, did Sanfelippo agree to delay the bill calling for a referendum? What happened is he had conference calls with a group of four county supervisors led by Deanna Alexander, including Mark Borkowski, Steve Taylor and James (Luigi) Schmitt — who expressed some support for reform coupled with concerns about certain details in the proposed bill, and asked for a chance to suggest alternative language.
“I said I would be willing to work with them to help shape my legislation,” Sanfelippo says. “Schultze took that to mean I was going to sit back and let the board do the reform.”
Schultze’s story, in fact, quoted County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic implying she would be leading a community discussion on county government reform. “It’s going to take some time to have a quality discussion and to base it on the facts,” Dimitrijevic said.
But Sanfelippo expresses doubts as to whether the board chair will ever support downsizing her operation. “Dimitrijevic told me she wanted to be part of the process of reform. I told her it’s very hard for me to believe this because she was one of the most vigorous people against reform back when I was on the county board.”
Sanfelippo has said from the beginning that he welcomes any suggestions to improve his bill. “Anyone who has an issue, I’m all ears.”
The legislator says he felt Alexander’s group was serious about trying to advance reform, and the only way to allow them time to work on this was to delay the referendum on reducing county supervisors to part-time, even as he continued full speed ahead on cutting the board’s budget.
Thus, the referendum would have to be held as part of a special election, or in the spring election of 2014. But by then, Sanfelippo predicts, his bill cutting the county board’s budget will have been passed, and supervisors will already confront the issue of how best to use their much smaller budget. If supervisors decide to remain full-time representatives, voters will still have the option of voting to make them part-time.
It remains to be seen if Sanfelippo succeeds with his plan, but one thing is clear: he’s not slowing it down.