Suburbs Overwhelmingly Want to Reduce Size of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors
Almost all of Milwaukee County’s suburbs had a referendum question that asked for voter’s opinions on reducing the size of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and reducing the position to part-time during Tuesday’s election. In every community it was asked, voters overwhelmingly voted to reduce the number and pay of supervisors, but what would that achieve?
If the goal is to fix the existing financial issues, simply shelling out less for the Milwaukee County Board is only going to save a penny or two when Milwaukee County is increasingly a dollar short.
If the goal is to prevent another pension scandal or to reduce the number of politicians that can possibly be charged with crimes (Johnny Thomas and Toni Clark come to recent memory), I’m not sure eliminating positions or reducing their pay would help.
Here is what I do know. The size of the Milwaukee County Board should get smaller, but with it changes need to come to how Milwaukee County delivers services.
Cutting for the Sake of Cutting
Simply reducing the size of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, and paying those left less money, will not lead to better candidates. If there are fewer Supervisors, the following will still be true.
- The Milwaukee County Transit System will still lack a dedicated funding source.
- The Milwaukee County Park System will still have to fight for every penny.
- Sheriff David Clarke will still have County Executive Chris Abele to fight with over the sacred cow of Sheriff’s Department funding.
- The County Executive will still occasionally butt heads with the County Board, although thankfully less often than the last County Executive.
- A number of Supervisors will still seek to leave for greener pastures (the Milwaukee Common Council pays more than $20,000 a year more already), continually leaving a number of districts in a state of flux with regard to their representation (Incomplete list of recent departures for other offices: Chris Larson, Tony Zielinski, Elizabeth Coggs, Eyon Biddle).
Paying Supervisors less and asking more out of them seems like a recipe for disaster.
Suburban voters have clearly signaled their displeasure with the Milwaukee County Board (which certainly isn’t a new thing), but cutting the number of Supervisors in half and hoping for more efficiency and lower taxes is akin to giving someone half as much time to take a test and hoping for better results. Milwaukee County’s issues can’t be fixed by simply eliminating elected officials.
Service Delivery and Governance
Milwaukee County should be focusing on securing dedicated funding and independent authorities for things like parks, transit, and the airport, not simply cutting the size of the Board for the sake of cutting the size of the Board.
Authorities, with their own elected or appointed bodies, single mission, and dedicated funding source, would be free of the ugly political fights that pit one service versus another marring the budget process and leaving everyone with a bad taste in their mouth. As the authorities are created the size of the board could be reduced (and be used as a way to entice the suburbs to go along with authority creation). The size of the Milwaukee County Board should get smaller, but with it changes need to come to how Milwaukee County delivers services.