Republican Dog & Pony Show
Legislators Vos and Darling tour city but offer no solutions. So why did they come?
It’s generally a good idea when legislators from outside Milwaukee drop by to tour the state’s largest city. You hope they will come away with a better understanding of the city’s needs.
But Tuesday’s tour of Ald. Bob Donovan’s aldermanic district by state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), had the feel of politicians posing for holy pictures.
Vos lives in the tiny village of Rochester, population 3,682, whose website boasts of a “unique small town charm that mixes urban, farming and country life styles.” It’s located 23 miles from downtown Racine. His perspective on the issues isn’t exactly urban. Darling lives in River Hills but is far more familiar with the city. In the course of their neighborhood tour, we learned they are concerned about crime in Milwaukee — but have no solutions to offer.
Mayor Tom Barrett had called on the state to provide funding for more police officers to help combat crime in Milwaukee. But Darling let it be known that people are not interested in “just throwing money” at the problem of crime. “What’s needed here is an overall plan to make a difference.”
Darling is talking about a police chief, Ed Flynn, who is considered a national leader in policing strategies, and in his tenure here has managed to slash police overtime costs while using pro-active, data-driven deployment of police to improve law enforcement and reduce crime — and this during a period when the economy was is decline and resulting social problems were on the rise. He would probably be the first to concede the department can still do better, but what precisely is Darling suggesting is lacking in Flynn’s approach? What kind of plan is needed? Alas, she did not respond to my email asking this question.
Vos, the Journal Sentinel reported, credited Barrett for trying to boost the police force with city funding, but said the mayor should not count on further state assistance. Vos also complained about Barrett showing up to join their tour of the neighborhood, suggesting the mayor seems ready to show up wherever there is a camera. Of course, Vos and Darling had drawn the cameras there with a tour intended to show their concern about crime in Milwaukee.
Darling offered perhaps the most preposterous comment of the day in response to Ald. Michael Murphy’s request that the legislature extend Act 10 to police and firefighters, whose salaries and benefits account for most of the city’s tax levy. She urged police and fire fighters to voluntarily contribute more to their pensions. That, I think it’s safe to say, will happen when pigs fly.
Gov. Scott Walker has previously offered sympathy to Barrett’s call for state funding of police, but suggested the city must decide how to apply its savings from Act 10, the law eliminating union bargaining rights and reducing their benefits.
That brought a response from uber-wonk Mark Nicolini, the city’s budget director, who says that on balance the city has lost money under Walker. His statistics show the city saved $14 million so far from benefits cuts and $1 million from reductions in overtime costs allowed by Act 10 and saved another $5 million from a separate law that allowed some leeway to change the health care plan design for police and fire fighters. That’s $20 million in savings.
Meanwhile, Nicolini notes, the state cut shared revenue to the city by $13.7 million, cut $1.1 million in recycling grants, and about $650,000 in various police-oriented funding. In addition, he says, the cost of the police/fire contracts rose by an additional $7.7 million during this period because they were exempted from Act 10. All of that wipes out the savings from Act 10.
This does not include the impact of ending residency in Milwaukee, which will add legal costs to fight this in the courts, and if the city loses (which is likely), will greatly lower the property tax base as many police and fire fighters move from the city. All told, the state budget has been far more concerned about Milwaukee’s police and fire unions than the city itself.
Journal Sentinel Downplays Global Warming Again
On Monday, the New York Times reported that an international panel of scientists “has found with near certainty that human activity is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades.” The findings are reported in a draft summary of the next big United Nations climate report. The story rose to second place on the Times lists of most popular, most commented and most emailed stories, showing its high interest for readers.
But the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which picks and chooses which syndicated stories to run, passed on this one. It did not even merit a two paragraph summary in its “Nation/World” briefings.
To judge by Google News, most newspapers passed on the story, though Bloomberg news, National Geographic, and interestingly, the Voice of America, did report on the draft report.
I’d argue, however, that the Journal Sentinel is a special case, as it has undoubtedly done more coverage of the decline in the water level of Lakes Michigan and Huron than any newspaper in the country, yet continues to downplay the impact of global warming as a contributing factor.
Whats behind these decisions? I emailed the editors asking for their rationale and received no reply.
People: Alberta Darling, Mark Nicolini, Michael Murphy, Robert Donovan, Robin Vos, Scott Walker, Tom Barrett
Government: City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Police Department
Neighborhood(s): Clarke Square, Muskego Way