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Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010

An Open Letter to the Next Wisconsin Governor

What Milwaukee needs you to do now

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It’s Election Day 2010.

As the Shepherd goes to press, we don’t know who voters will select in voting booths across the state.

But we do know that a new governor—whether it’s Democrat Tom Barrett or Republican Scott Walker—will begin his first term with a host of competing interests and not much money to support them. Not only will the next governor inherit a $2.7 billion structural deficit, but he’ll have to jump-start the state’s economy and job creation efforts while providing a much-needed safety net for those who have been hit hard by the recession.

We asked some of Milwaukee’s community leaders what they want the next governor to do when he becomes the state’s chief executive in January 2011. Here’s what they told us:

To the Governor-Elect…

“It’s great that you are from Milwaukee County, which is urban, diverse and has unique needs. We are the economic engine of Wisconsin, and it’s time for the state to give our people and their needs the respect they deserve.

“Milwaukee’s poverty rate is 27%, fourth-poorest in the nation, which is especially troubling given the great wealth in bordering Waukesha County, which has a 4% poverty rate. Please seriously consider adopting tax-base sharing, like what has been done in Minnesota—where the entire metropolitan area, including school districts, cities, counties and towns—share in commercial and industrial growth. This is an option that can revitalize southeastern Wisconsin. That would be true regionalism, and that’s what the Greater Milwaukee Committee should really be using their business clout to study.

“Milwaukee County is far too dependent on the property tax, and that needs to change. As the next governor, you should allow Milwaukee County to diversify its revenue sources. The voters have already endorsed a 1% sales tax to provide property tax relief by removing transit, parks and paramedics from the levy. The cost of these quality-of-life services then could be spread to non-residents. Also, state government needs to fully fund services the state mandates, such as courts, mental health and freeway patrols.

“The juvenile justice system in Wisconsin must be reformed, and it is time the Department of Corrections closed one of the juvenile correctional facilities. It makes no sense that the state continues to send delinquent youth from Milwaukee County to an underutilized facility up north (at a great cost to the property taxpayer). The state currently charges Milwaukee County more than $100,000 a year to house just one delinquent youth at a juvenile correctional facility. Instead, the state should throw out the outdated model and start using smaller-scale, regional secure facilities for juveniles.

“Because you are currently the chief administrator of one of Wisconsin’s largest municipal governments, you already know how important shared revenue is to local governments. Any cuts in shared revenue result in higher property taxes and/or reduced services.

“I look forward to working with you. I am hopeful that you will have a better understanding of Milwaukee County's unique needs. Without a vibrant Milwaukee, Wisconsin will fail.”

—Lee Holloway

Chair

Milwaukee County Board


To the Governor-Elect…
“I’m looking for an overhaul of the public safety system where we really identify the most effective practices to keep people safe and reduce the costs associated with the justice process. We’re engaged in evidence-based decision-making right here in Milwaukee County and we’d love to have bipartisan support from Madison where we’re accountable for the costs associated with public safety in Milwaukee and we get credit if we can reduce those costs and keep people safe. I think that’s a message that’s going to have to be addressed by this next Legislature because of the unsustainable costs of our corrections system right now.

“That’s going to be the major issue confronting the next governor as it relates to public safety. How do we do public safety in the most effective way that allows us to redirect resources where we know it keeps the community safe and reduces the recidivism rate? That rate is extraordinarily high, which means that the system as it currently functions is nowhere near as effective as it should be.”

—John Chisholm

Milwaukee County District Attorney

To the Governor-Elect…
“One of the biggest things I would like the next governor to work on is fixing the education funding system. This year almost 20% of property taxes raised [by Milwaukee Public Schools] is going to fund the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. I don’t believe that MPS should have to raise taxes for another school district.

“Another issue I hope they address is the revenue limit cap, where you are penalized for cuts and efficiency. And I’d like the next governor to work positively with the school district in terms of a partnership and recognizing the unique challenges that Milwaukee has in terms of some of the economic challenges that our students have coming into the district.”

—Michael Bonds

President

Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors

To the Governor-Elect…
“Wisconsin is one of the few states in this region that does not put state money—general purpose funds—into its workforce development system. The state has given about half a million dollars to summer youth programs in Milwaukee, but most of the other funds have been transfers from a federal source. If the next governor is really serious about doing something about jobs then he has to seriously look at supplementing the money that’s coming in from the federal government.

“And while some people don’t think that BadgerCare is a jobs issue, it is so important that low-income people have access to health care if we want them to go to work. The idea of cutting BadgerCare is not wise. I think the federal government has made a nice first step with the health care bill that was passed. But I think it’s going to be incumbent upon states to continue to push the envelope and demonstrate by expanding health care to a wider population in more creative ways that it’s healthy for the people and healthy for our economy.”

—Don Sykes

President and CEO

Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board


To the Governor-Elect…

“We need to have policies that encourage economic growth in our communities. We need to have a plan to recruit businesses that provide good, family-supporting jobs to our communities. We’ve done some of that. Bucyrus, with its addition of 500 jobs, is really good news for us, and we need to keep up that trend.

“We have such an incredibly beautiful, exciting city and our future depends on the next governor doing all he can to highlight Milwaukee throughout the state and throughout the country. We have an incredible amount of resources here—not only our natural resources, but our people. We have hardworking people, we have people who have good skills, who have manufacturing skills. People are ready to make things here again.”

—Stephanie Bloomingdale

Secretary-Treasurer

Wisconsin AFL-CIO

To the Governor-Elect…
“I would like the next governor to be constructive in finding solutions for Milwaukee County’s beleaguered parks and transit systems. On health care, stay on the side of consumers. Don’t let people be subject again to losing their coverage when they have a pre-existing condition or when they reach a lifetime limit for insurance. Invest in Wisconsin’s new frontiers of economic growth, like alternative energy, biotech and the water industry. On tax breaks, make sure that we get jobs for the breaks that we’re giving. Don’t just give away the store to a company that ships jobs overseas or outside of the state. Focus on closing the achievement gap in the Milwaukee schools and provide money to back up your ideas.

“Wisconsin is going to have to make some decisions on implementing the federal health care law in a way that’s appropriate for Wisconsin. This is a great opportunity for us to create a health care system that serves Wisconsinites, that provides more options for health care, especially for people who work for small businesses or who are self-employed. We need to seize this opportunity.

“Unfortunately, there are many people who want us to go back to the bad old days where costs keep going up with no end in sight and you can get dropped from coverage when you need it most. We just can’t afford that—as a country, as a society and as individuals.”

—State Rep. Jon Richards

(D-Milwaukee)

To the Governor-Elect…
“I would like him to be a governor that represents the interests of working people and does not use racism and anti-immigrant politics. I would ask him not to pit working people against each other.

“Specifically, we would like to see the driver card legislation [for undocumented immigrants] pass in 2011. It’s a win-win for everybody. There’s no reason not to pass this legislation. First, in Utah it’s generated $1 million in revenue. Second, it promotes greater safety on our roads because it ensures that every driver has been tested both with a written exam and on a practical level. It ensures that we have as many people insured as possible, which will drive down premium costs for people who have licenses now. And it enhances safety in our neighborhoods because it provides law enforcement with the true identity of an individual and their record.”

—Christine Neumann-Ortiz

Founding Executive Director

Voces de la Frontera

To the Governor-Elect…
“We would really appreciate it if the next governor supports the Great Lakes compact and continues to adopt the rules to implement it as well as hold Waukesha’s precedent-setting application to a high standard of review. We also think that many important vacant positions at the DNR need to be filled. We really need the clean-water enforcement. The vacancies at the DNR are really threatening our water resources and our air resources. We also would like nonpoint pollution runoff programs to be funded. These are programs for farmers to deal with their storm-water management. We also think there should be funding for urban storm-water management and flood control.

“We’d like to see an increase in funding for failing infrastructure. The federal funds that we get are not enough. We need to look at more innovative funding sources. Minnesota has passed a sales tax for water and natural resources. We’re seeing more and more volatile storms and our pipes aren’t up to snuff. A lot of our pipes are 100 years old and they’re not getting better. They’re getting worse. We’re going to see more damage like we saw in July if we don’t commit to dealing with our failing infrastructure.”

—Cheryl Nenn

Milwaukee Riverkeeper

To the Governor-Elect…
“I’d like the next governor to work with congressional representatives and senators to call on the federal government to provide financial aid to the states and communities in order to protect the infrastructure and services we need to recover fully.

“A lot of the major economists have said if the federal government doesn’t maintain support to the states that it increases the chance for a double-dip recession. The economy is so fragile right now that if you start cutting public-sector jobs and spending, then you’re deepening the economic freeze and precipitating another serious recession.

“There really isn’t any money at the state level. At this point the state is facing such a large deficit that tax cuts are sort of suicidal. We desperately need that revenue to protect our schools and our BadgerCare. We need to keep the tax system that we have and look for ways to make it more fair so that everyone is paying their fair share. Residential property taxpayers pay a lot, but there are a lot of sectors that aren’t necessarily paying their fair share, like nonprofit hospitals. The business community has a lot of property tax exemptions.”

—Karen Royster

Executive Director

Institute for Wisconsin’s Future


To the Governor-Elect…

“The most pressing issue right now with veterans in Wisconsin is the Veterans Trust Fund, which mostly funds veterans’ nursing homes; they also take care of indigent people as well. The trust fund has been really damaged because of the economy. Our two ‘soldiers’ homes,’ one at King and one at Union Grove, have been affected in a way that they had to ask veterans and their family members to leave because they couldn’t afford them anymore.

“Another issue that I would love the next governor to get involved in is with the Wisconsin National Guard, which has been nationalized to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. The multiple deployments of the National Guard are at the root of so many of the suicides among our active and retired military. The next governor and other governors who are allowing our guard to be used this way could, with a unified voice, address the Defense Department and let it know that they’re really upset that our citizens are being used in this way.”

—Mark Foreman

Board Chair, Homeless Veterans Initiative

Veterans for Peace Chapter 102

To the Governor-Elect…
“I would like for the next governor to be as concerned—or more concerned—about public safety than about furthering gun rights to some absurd level. I think there will certainly be some movement on both concealed carry and open carry. Right now it’s kind of a free-for-all for open carry. I think that during the dialogue there are going to be some pro-gun advocates who are going to push for concealed carry.

“We’ll be going back to the Legislature to try to close that enormous loophole which allows people to buy a gun without a background check. We certainly hope the next governor is supportive of something as common sense as that.”

—Jeri Bonavia

Executive Director

Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE)



To the Governor-Elect…
“This is the worst state fiscal funding crisis we’ve had since the Great Depression. It was caused by Wall Street malfeasance and it’s imperative that we don’t make the people of Wisconsin pay for the malfeasance of others. They’ve already paid for a bailout. And now we can’t say that we’re going to cut state services, which are vital to the economy, or that we are going to lay off thousands of public employees who work for us as a consequence of Wall Street malfeasance.

“We have to do everything within our power to maintain the vital services and quality of life that we have in this state. Infrastructure, education infrastructure, social services, health care infrastructure—all are crucial to our economy and to the state having a strong workforce that creates wealth. It’s not just some sort of excess expenditure that’s extraneous to the economy. Quite the opposite.”

—Robert Kraig

Executive Director

Citizen Action of Wisconsin

To the Governor-Elect…
“I would like to see aquaponic miniatures in each and every high school of our state to begin cultivating among our students a deeper understanding of biology, chemistry, physics, math and entrepreneurship so as to prepare them for degrees from UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences. That will equip them with the necessary intellectual and hands-on application skills to start setting up aquaponic systems in people’s back yards, at places of worship, in each school in the state, and in commercial-level Sweet Water-type experiments in repurposed factory buildings. This will lead the way for Wisconsin to become a major export industry, offering the software for aquaponics for rainwater nations, desert nations and beleaguered cities.”

—James Godsil

Co-founder

Sweet Water Organics