Patricia Jursik
Press Release

Truth in Advertising: Games, Claims and Frames

A Review of the Milwaukee County 2016 Budget

By - Oct 9th, 2015 12:08 pm

County Executive Chris Abele’s 2016 Proposed Budget was widely publicized as a no-tax-increase budget with no cuts in county services.  This narrative received little challenge from the news media.  Now that the people’s representatives – Milwaukee County Supervisors – are finally able to see the bare bones of this budget, it is apparent that under Abele Milwaukee County is taking a significant turn away from its progressive past.

Abele’s budget is significantly out of balance in spite of claims to the contrary.  The Sheriff’s budget, for example, purportedly adds 20 new positions but provides for a zero increase in the tax levy.  An unexplained “Cost Abatement” of nearly $8 million is left without any detail or narrative in the budget document and the elected Sheriff is told to “deal with it” while the elected County Comptroller is told, he “shall have responsibility to ensure that the Sheriff complies with the expenditure authority.” In other words:  “The County Executive is washing his hands of how this $8 million hole gets filled.”

The County Executive went to Madison and unilaterally offered to put arena financing on the backs of the county property taxpayers.  As a result, Shared Revenue from the state, which was flat compared to 2015, will be reduced by another $4 million to pay this debt service for the arena.  These two items alone put the budget $12 million in the red.  The County Executive’s game is to claim he is paying for the arena debt with “contingency funds”.  This is not nor ever has been the reason the Board creates a contingency fund.  Generally it is created for unforeseen expenditures that can arise during the year. To add insult to injury, Abele’s budget plans only $5 million for Contingencies in a $1.37 Billion dollar budget. This is well below prior year Contingencies.

An especially egregious tactic which is now becoming common place in the Abele budgets is the use of the 0.5- cent sales tax to pay for operating expenses.  This sales tax was created for the specific purpose of allowing Capital Expenditures for our parks and cultural amenities. The sales tax unfortunately was used under the Scott Walker and Abele administrations for some Operating Costs, but it is obvious that the state legislators with the help of Abele are now forcing the County to divert the sales tax away from maintaining our parks and cultural amenities to pay for ongoing county expenses.

There will be much more to review as we continue our work. In addition to this $12 million deficit we also have a shortfall of about $20 million in the pension fund due to the Abele administration’s failure to include Cost of Living adjustments in the prior year.

Citizens need to be told the truth about the county budget.  Supervisors will do our best to highlight this misinformation that has been hidden behind the hoopla of the County Executive’s media spin as he attempted to frame his budget as tax-increase-free.

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2 thoughts on “Truth in Advertising: Games, Claims and Frames”

  1. Alfred says:

    Pat, sales taxes have bee used for operating expenses almost every year since the sales tax was implemented. Had you bothered to read or understand past budgets you’d know that in 2014 you used $14.9 million and in 2015 you used $25.7 million on operations other than debt service or capital projects. Every dollar of sales tax you spend on debt service is one dollar less you can use on operating costs – like parks maintenance or your Go Pass.

    The $8 million in the Sheriff’s budget is a problem and is not great budgeting, your colleagues did basically the same thing in the 2015 budget by approving the Go Pass with no information about the cost, creating a million dollar deficit in the Sheriff’s Office by allowing unfunded command staff positions, used over a million dollars of one-time debt premium revenues for ongoing fringe benefit costs, and used contingency funds to provide raises for employees (another on-going cost).

    If anything, Abele is guilty of using the same tricks you folks have used for years.

  2. Diane Buck says:

    Whether the County has been using the .05 cent sales tax for operating the last couple of years is beyond the point.
    The point is that tax should have gone to parks and other cultural amenities. Parks are really hurting with deferred maintenance issues and very few funds for infrastructure projects. Abele says he will set aside funds for the parks but it will be a drop in the bucket for the needs. The Parks Department has lost hundreds of workers over the years I have lived here. Many of us have worked to form strong friends groups in individual parks; however, friends groups CANNOT make up for budgeted workers in our 140 plus parks.

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