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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

Issue of the Week: Abele’s Budget Looks a Lot Like Walker’s Old Budgets

Plus: Hero of the Week

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What’s the difference between Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and his predecessor, Scott Walker?

Not a whole lot, according to a Milwaukee County board analysis of Abele’s 2013 budget.

Both Abele and Walker submitted tight, unworkable county budgets that didn’t raise property taxes from the previous year’s tax levy. That strategy forces the board to do the heavy lifting of finding enough revenue to cover the county’s realistic expenses. It’s a gimmick, and it certainly doesn’t convey leadership.

And, like Walker, Abele balances his budget on the backs of employees. Just as he did last year, Abele is asking county workers and retirees to pay more toward their health care costs. This year, Abele wants workers to cover the entire $9 million increase in health care costs and pay an additional $1.2 million to offset other county expenses. Currently, workers pay 25% of their health care costs. Abele’s budget raises that to 29% and ends health care coverage for those working less than 30 hours a week. Abele is proposing to phase in a cost-of-living adjustment, but that won’t offset employees’ increased health care expenses, which will be higher than state or city workers’ expenses.

Abele’s reliance on cutting employee benefits is risky. They were enabled by his mentor, Scott Walker, through Walker’s Act 10 collective bargaining bill, which is on shaky legal ground. So if all or parts of Act 10 are declared void, Abele’s budgets will go from bad to completely unworkable.

Abele is also following in Walker’s footsteps by ducking a big decision on transit. Abele and Walker both cobbled together short-term federal and state funds even though the Milwaukee County Transit System needs a dedicated, long-term funding source. Major bus routes are currently utilizing a federal grant that runs out in 2014, so Abele can’t dodge the issue much longer.

Where Abele and Walker part ways is support for Sheriff David Clarke. Walker always supplied Clarke with enough funds to keep his department running. But Abele’s budget proposes big policy changes and layoffs for the sheriff’s department—changes that Clarke, a constitutional officer, opposes and changes that may not be legal. What’s ironic is that Abele and Clarke have a terrible relationship, despite having much in common. The two men were voted into office as Democrats but think, act and govern like Republicans.

Voters supported Abele in 2011 because they wanted a different kind of county executive. But what they got in Abele is a Walker wannabe.

Heroes of the Week: America SCORES Milwaukee Volunteers and Teachers

America SCORES was developed in 1994 by Julie Kennedy, a Washington, D.C., public school teacher concerned that her classroom students were at risk of gang activity and other dangers due to the lack of constructive after-school options. She turned to her passions, soccer and poetry, and intertwined them as an after-school program for her students. She added a service-learning element and soon found that her students were more engaged in class, performed better academically and spent more time being physically active. America SCORES became a national organization in 1999 and more than 44,000 urban youth have benefited from its unique programming. Each program consists of two 10-week sessions (fall and spring) that engage third- through fifth-grade youth in after-school soccer, poetry and service-learning for 90 minutes, five days per week. With an entirely volunteer board and only two paid office staff, America SCORES is able to hire four school-day teachers as writing and soccer “coaches” and pay each a nominal stipend.

America SCORES Milwaukee, founded by Kate Carpenter in 2004, targets schools that are underperforming and have a high rate of free or reduced lunches.

“This is a highly successful program that provides children opportunities that are often unavailable in urban neighborhoods,” says John Eggebrecht, associate director of America SCORES Milwaukee. “All of its success can be credited to the teachers and volunteers who believe in the program. We cannot thank our teachers enough for the extra time and effort they put forth to impact our community’s youth.”

America SCORES Milwaukee is always in need of volunteers and many opportunities are available, all of which are listed online at www.americascoresmke.org. In addition, this nonprofit always accepts donations of soccer cleats and classroom supplies such as loose-leaf paper, folders and pencils. For more information about volunteering or donating, please contact Eggebrecht at 414-303-3420 or jeggebrecht@americascores.org.

Tom Ament Gives Back to the Community

Ever wonder what happens to the money left in politicians’ campaign funds? Honorable officials put the money toward the public good. With a strong desire to change the community for the better, former Milwaukee County Executive F. Thomas Ament donated nearly $340,000 to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to create the F. Thomas Ament Fund. This fund consists of Ament’s unspent campaign donations accrued during his 34 years in office (1968-2002, with 10 years as county executive) and will help to support health, social service, hunger and educational programs that aid Milwaukee’s underprivileged.

“Our hearts go out to the many thousands of poor in Milwaukee,” Ament said. “My first commitment is to support initiatives improving health and well-being for children, families, the elderly and others who have not enjoyed all of life’s blessings.”

Ament, now 74, saw the hardships experienced by people living without adequate food, housing, child care, health care and education while serving Milwaukee County citizens and believes it is extremely important for individuals to give back to their communities to the extent they are able in these trying times. Donating this money to a donor-advised fund at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation enables Ament and his wife, Darla Hium, to address critical needs in the community and make a difference in the lives of those affected by poverty.
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