Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Rep. Sanfelippo Says Full-Speed Ahead

His bill to downsize county government will be introduced next week and he predicts it will pass.

By - Jan 31st, 2013 10:51 am
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Joe Sanfelippo

Joe Sanfelippo

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.

14 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Rep. Sanfelippo Says Full-Speed Ahead”

  1. Tyrell Track Master says:

    I Don’t usually like agreeing with republicans, but this county board downsize seems like a very good idea.

  2. Sam says:

    Bruce, my read of the state constitution is that it would actually be illegal to cut the supervisors’ pay mid-term, regardless of the budget. (Article 4, Sec. 26.) Your take?

  3. bill says:

    Very bad precedent for the State leg. to dictate to any County what they may budget for Supervisors as a percent of the county tax levy. When the Dem’s next regain power why not play tit-for-tat and reduce the Waukesha County Sup. to only .004 percent of total levy and restrict salary of County Executive to $1.00.

  4. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    The mess on the Milwaukee Cty. board is just one of the things that people out-state look at and shake their head in disbelief. I just explain to him that this is one of the standard leftist operations, along with MMSD, MATC, MPS and Convention Center and they understand. changing this around will be one tiny step forward to give some sort of sense to Milwaukee, but in the long run it will probably not matter much. Any savings will be quickly blown. It will still be dominated by union slugs or other leftists.

  5. duncan says:

    Bill – This bill would NOT dictate a budget item to another municipality.

    This bill WOULD put a binding referendum on the ballot in Milwaukee county.

    Big difference.

  6. Duncan says:

    Oops. That was the first of the two bills. The 2nd seems to do what you suggest. Never mind.

  7. DHRichards says:

    We downsized in Fond du Lac County, and it didn’t work. Too many committees for each member. But they are part time paid. I think part time in Milwaukee would be a mistake, as people need help from their reps, and may not get it. But, I am prepared to be wrong. Do we have good information on the Sups, and how many hours they are in their offices, and how many calls they get, and how many have another job or form of income that is ongoing?

  8. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Down sizing is wrong, makes districts too large and expensive to camapign in, but just make it part time.

  9. Sam says:

    DHRichards, I’d like that info as well…not just when they’re in their offices but when they’re actually on “duty.” I’m sure plenty work offsite (at parks or at a meeting with other officials elsewhere), just like other workers who telecommute or attend meetings at other people’s offices (maybe homes or coffee shops?) and plenty attend neighborhood meetings and maybe read their meeting binders at night at home before going i. to the meeting the next morning.

    I’m willing to bet that some supervisors put in little more than attending their required meetings (look to the ones who list law practices and CPAs and cab companies in their bios) and others put in well more than 40 hours most weeks, even if it isn’t 40 hours right at the courthouse.

  10. Patty PT says:

    Being in an elected office has never been a Part Time role. Once you are voted in, you are on the political stage 24×7. Your life is not your own, you are the public’s beck and call, and everyone you see wants to tell you something that is so very important to them at that moment, or they want something from you. I honestly think these people are way underpaid for the exposure they have to the general population and their wants and needs.

    For a County of our size and the level of service that we need we probably have the right amount of Supervisors. It may be a little heavy, maybe get it down to 12 or 15. Where it’s heavy is on the administrative side. There are a lot of staffers, too much duplication of efforts, and too many people not authorized to be decision makers. Let’s look there.

    But really, the biggest problem we have as a government on the whole is term limits. These roles were designed to be 1 or 2 term public servants, and then back to the real world you go, to bring forth what you’ve learned and clear the path for someone else to serve. Now, elected offices are seen as life terms, where as long as you keep getting elected, you can just keep letting it ride. We would not have the level of corruption, distrust, and political mayhem we have it were a 2 term opportunity. The longer people are in politics, the more they become part of the machine, answering to lobbiest and big business, and only turning back to their constiuents when it’s election time and people have to vote. Look at campaign finance reports…most of the money comes from interested businesses, not from constituents. The 2nd biggest problem in politics is how campaign financing can lead to skewed priorities. It happens every single day at every level of government.

  11. Bill Sell says:

    The problem is not the size or the budget for the Board, but no one is answering the question: Who can afford to do this job on a part-time basis? As I see it, the Board will eventually be occupied by special interests who are going to be eager to sell County assets to their sponsors. The sponsors of these board members will be well heeled, and will be looking specifically to cash in on: the parks – opening up spaces for condos and restaurants; the airport – taking a 99 year lease with a payment of a few years of airport budget (the airport revenue now is net zero with tax revenue); and who would go to bat for Transit, still waiting for the spoken will of the people since 2008? The burden of resolving the County’s debts will fall directly on the public wealth (parks, esp.) that the County has cherished and nurtured for generations. And we will all be the poorer for that.

    I challenge those who accuse the Board of corruption to produce some facts. The last attempt to establish Board corruption turned out to be a wire used by Abele’s office to discredit a good man who stood in Abele’s way. This is the stuff that poisons the democratic process.

  12. Tom says:

    My very first thought upon hearing of the possibility of a binding referendum to be held this spring was that this would greatly increase the turnout for the Supreme Court election but only in Milwaukee County. This would probably be bad for the conservative incumbent, Patience Roggensack. I found it strange that a Republican would do this.

    Now Sanfelippo is delaying that part of his plan (and ONLY that part of his plan). The cynic in me says this delay is only to help insure Roggensack’s re-election.

  13. ann zion says:

    First, thanks to you, Bruce, for fleshing in the gaps in the story that haven’t been otherwise published. What I think should be remembered when we are talking about the Milwaukee County Board is that every unit of the County (city and suburbs) already has a governing unit, and that is who residents call for garbage, road, streetlight etc. issues….not the County Supervisor. Also, as has been noted, the County government oversees far less than years ago (no Hospital, for example). So, the responsibilities of the Board have diminished, as the adjunct staffers and researchers have multiplied.

    I was pleased to learn from Bruce Murphy’s item that Sanfileppo is still on track to get hie proposal moving forward, and I deeply hope that it comes to a vote.

    Then Bruce, tell us how the unelected Convention Board can be made more functional, and how we can get citizens to remind them that there are options other than enlarging an empty facility.

  14. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Milwaukee cty. government was always the stopping point for al active Leftists, they got a job. When Walker took over then that was stopped and a lot of dead weight was cut off the tree. All of those assistants are little more than leftist political workers, the actual supervisors do not have much to do, what do they need an assistant for?

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