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Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010

Issue of the Week: The Bad County Budget

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

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It’s only February and the 2010 Milwaukee County budget is already imploding—just like all of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s previous budgets that eventually crashed and burned.

Walker and a county board committee have agreed to increase the number of unpaid furlough days from 12 to 22 days this year for 1,400 county employees.

The latest news is just one item in a long list of what’s wrong with the numbers because Walker could not craft an honest budget.

First, Walker tried to balance his “no new taxes” budget by claiming $32 million in wage and benefits cuts that were never part of any pending labor contracts and, in fact, had never been proposed by Walker’s labor negotiator during 18 months of negotiations.

Then the board tried to soften the blow by reducing that number to $17 million in cuts. But those concessions had not been approved by labor unions, either.

Then, Walker signed off on furlough days for employees—including sheriff’s deputies—that he hadn’t quite intended to. Still, they stuck.

This is how you run a county?

The 2010 budget is pure fantasy and its impact on workers is unfair. Walker should have crafted a budget that honors labor agreements—Mayor Tom Barrett found a way to do so—while being realistic about the county’s responsibilities. Instead, the budget is nothing more than a Walker campaign piece, designed to deceive voters who aren’t fully informed of his leadership skills.

Hero of the Week

Patricia Kemp

Rightfully, the honors keep coming to Patricia Kemp, Ph.D., now in her 34th year of teaching at Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). In 1994, she was awarded a Kohl Educational Foundation fellowship for her “superior ability to inspire love of learning in students.” Kemp, in her 19th year at Eighth Street School, was an early pioneer in collaborating with Express Yourself Milwaukee, a nonprofit organization that empowers at-risk youth by immersion into the world of music, dance and visual arts. The group will honor Kemp at its annual fund-raising event March 4.

Kemp firmly believes in the power of creative expression in helping to overcome the economic and social challenges faced by youth in our community, and works closely with volunteer artists from Express Yourself, who also share their talents in community centers, residential treatment centers and correctional facilities.

For her lifelong commitment to lighting a creative spark among underserved youth, the Shepherd honors Kemp as “Hero of the Week.”

Readers who wish to get involved are urged to visit Express Yourself Milwaukee at www.expressyourselfmilwaukee.org or attend the group’s event at Turner Hall Ballroom on March 4 from 6 to 9 p.m. For ticket information, call (414) 272-3498.

Jerk of the Week

Scott Walker

It’s a rare moment when Mark Belling and the Shepherd Express agree, but it happened a few days ago when we shared our disgust with gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker and his fat-cat fund-raiser. Last week, Walker flew to Florida in a private jet to speak to and take money from the Wisconsin Road Builders, now conveniently named the Wisconsin Transportation Builders. (Yes, the people who build Wisconsin’s transportation system would rather travel to another state for their convention.) Walker jetted there to raise funds from wealthy business owners who make billions of dollars each year from Wisconsin taxpayers. Belling believes Walker left the fund-raiser with more than $100,000 from an industry group that lives entirely off our tax dollars. Who else builds roads and bridges? So it behooves industry businessmen to contribute heavily to the candidate they believe, if elected, would send them the most money back—in this case, overwhelmingly it is Scott Walker. So if Walker becomes governor and faces tough choices in budget cuts, we know what will not get cut. And the Road Builders will have gotten a good return on their campaign contribution investment.

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