Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Will Push for More State Funding

Resolution creates "Fair Deal" work group backed by Abele and board to address county fiscal crisis.

By - Oct 31st, 2018 02:58 pm
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Theo Lipscomb and Chris Abele.

Theo Lipscomb and Chris Abele.

Monday night Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. and County Executive Chris Abele both signed a historic piece of legislation for the county.

The resolution brought forward by Lipscomb created a work group to develop solutions for the long-term fiscal future of Milwaukee. It’s called the “Fair-Deal” workgroup and it will be co-chaired by Lipscomb and Abele.

Not only was the resolution a step towards resolving the county’s impending fiscal crisis, it was an unprecedented moment of collaboration between the Board of Supervisors and the County Executive on the budget. At the meeting Monday, Abele himself said, “In the now almost eight years I’ve been at the county, the collaboration in this budget process has been better than it has ever been.” Supervisors like Lipscomb have also noted that the county executive’s administration has been more transparent and collaborative about this budget process. “Obviously a marked change from previous years, and last year in particular,” Lipscomb said of the process this year.

The collaboration during the budget process and creating the new working group are born of the same reality: the county is on a crash course, with an ongoing structural deficit, compounded by the fact that money sent by county taxpayers to the state has been rising significantly, while state funding the county gets back has been declining in real dollars. Between 2009 and 2015, the increase in county taxpayers payments to the state has been roughly $400 million. Yet the county can’t tap into the growing local economy because the state also has placed caps on the property taxes and sales taxes Milwaukee can levy. Meanwhile revenue for services the county is mandated by the state to provide are getting progressively more underfunded.

Solutions to the county’s fiscal problems have been difficult to come by with so many restraints on its ability to raise revenue. That’s why lobbying the state for more shared revenue has become the main point of attack. In previous budgets the county executive has to scrape together revenue where he can. This has led to unpopular proposals in the recent past, included metered parking in the parks, and an additional hike in the county wheel tax, neither of which became law.

“The existence of this imbalance and its impact aren’t new – this has been a drag on our budget and services for years,” Abele said, in a joint press release with Lipscomb. What’s new, he noted, is the collaborative approach to finding solutions.

The current trend simply isn’t sustainable, as Lipscomb said when he introduced the resolution before a committee of the whole in early October. “Each year, we strive to pass a responsible budget that balances the needs of our constituents with the limited resources available to Milwaukee County, but each year that balance is harder to strike,” Lipscomb said.

Mandated services have been seeing cuts for years. And this budget cycle, all departments were given a targeted reduction of 1.1 percent for their annual budget. For departments like Health and Human Services, the department with the largest annual budget expenditure, these cuts hit an already struggling program of services.

For example, Milwaukee County has one of the highest rates for caseloads per social worker in the country. Abele said the county has upwards of 900 cases per social worker.

And the disrepair and neglect of non-mandatory quality of life programs like parks are causing ire among the county residents. The parks in the county have been deferring maintenance for years. Spending on cultural assets and parks and recreation by the county needs to increase significantly, according to a report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

With all this in mind, the Fair-Deal workgroup was established, with unanimous support from county supervisors and the county executive, and in time to lobby the state before legislators undertake their own budget process come December.

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Categories: MKE County, Politics

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