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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Issue of the Week: Scott Walker Discovers Milwaukee

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Just weeks before his recall election and days after news broke that Wisconsin lost the highest percentage of jobs in the nation last year, Gov. Scott Walker has discovered Milwaukee.

On Monday, the embattled governor announced a $100 million package of loans and federal tax credits to spur jobs and improve housing in Milwaukee's central city.

The news was greeted with deserved cynicism, not because Milwaukeeans don't want the city to thrive, but because Walker had been in the position to help the city for more than a decade. Instead, his poor leadership and ideological policies have only harmed Milwaukee.

When Walker represented Wauwatosa in the state Legislature, he championed the truth-in-sentencing act that has ripped apart Milwaukee families and busted the state budget, and supported the voucher program that boosts religious and private schools at the expense of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), which educates the vast majority of the city's kids.

As Milwaukee County executive, Walker's "no tax increase" budgets failed to fully fund the bus system and other vital operations. Walker's leadership of the workforce board, which oversees the job-training dollars, was managed so poorly that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was allowed to take it over. Lacking strong leadership, the Park East land owned by the county is still undeveloped, although the city-owned portion is rebounding. In 2011, Walker railed against Obama's federal stimulus funding for infrastructure projects because he is ideologically opposed to any stimulus other than tax cuts. The county board had to push for the funds instead. Walker eventually did apply for funds, but he set tight restrictions on what he would accept.

Most damning, Walker appointed his longtime political aide, Tim Russell, to be the county's economic development chief in 2004, even though Russell wasn't qualified for the job, and Walker made constant organizational changes to that department. Wisely, the county board refused to confirm Russell's appointment in 2005. Walker, however, continued to hire Russell for county and campaign jobs after that. Russell is now accused of embezzling from a veterans' charity and appears in almost all of the criminal complaints generated in the ongoing John Doe investigation.

After Walker was elected governor, he continued to damage Milwaukee. He refused to accept $810 million in federal funds to create high-speed rail in the region. As a consequence, train-maker Talgo—which is located in the 30th Street Corridor, the very area Walker now says he wants to develop—is shedding jobs due to lack of local demand. In his state budget, Walker made historic cuts to public education, including MPS and Wisconsin's tech schools, which are training the state's next generation of workers. He also used $30 million from a mortgage settlement to plug his budget hole instead of distributing it to homeowners who had been exploited by Wall Street financiers and corrupt lenders.

So Walker's plan is really more about his political survival and not the future of Milwaukee, the state's economic engine.

If Walker had been more concerned about Milwaukee's economy, he probably wouldn't be in such serious political trouble.

Unfortunately, the city is paying the price for Scott Walker's long history of poor judgment and political opportunism.

Heroes of the Week: Kosciuszko Community Center Volunteers

The Kosciuszko Community Center (2201 S. Seventh St.) provides a diverse program of recreation and cultural activities for youth, adults and senior citizens. The center offers after-school and summer programming for children, adult fitness opportunities, boxing and martial arts programs, mentorship opportunities, community events, workshops and classes. The center houses two weight rooms, a basketball court, fitness rooms, a boxing ring, a karate room, a children's library, a computer lab and more. Volunteers play a vital role in organizing and staffing these much-needed community resources.

Readers wishing to volunteer their time and talents are encouraged to call the Kosciuszko Community Center at 414-645-4624. For more information, visit www.countyparks.com.

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