Friday, Sept. 25, 2009

Budgets: Ugh.

By Lisa Kaiser
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Mayor Tom Barrett and County Executive Scott Walker both released their 2010 budgets Thursday morning. I’m wading through them now, but at least one of them seems to have been crafted in Fantasy Land. And I’m not talking about Barrett’s budget, although I have questions about it.

In his city budget overview, Barrett’s upfront about the challenges facing the city. State aid has flatlined and the city doesn’t have a whole lot of revenue sources to use. The city also needs to make pension contributions for the first time in years, and health care costs have skyrocketed.

Barrett’s solution is to cut jobs—380 full-time positions, to be exact, and he has already gotten some concessions from District Council 48, which he says will save the city $10 million a year—and to find other sources of revenue (as well as raise property taxes 4.4%). He wants a share of a “county-wide sales tax to help address the continuing decline in the state’s commitment to shared revenue.”

Not sure what this sales tax could be—the governor is hell-bent on allowing the county to levy a half-cent sales tax for transit only. Barrett had wanted a share of a one-cent sales tax, which he would have used for public safety. Whether the Legislature can get this done isn't certain.

Barrett also wants “a new approach to the state’s Transportation Aid formula” so that it prioritizes local infrastructure maintenance (ie: pothole repair). Wouldn’t that require a state fix? It does.

Barrett didn’t provide a whole lot of details, but at least he’s honest about the state of the city’s finances.

Walker, on the other hand, seems to be out of touch with reality. Critics are calling this a “credit-card” budget, since he’s making lots of high-profile investments (conveniently, while he’s out campaigning for governor) but pushing off the payments (until after the election).

Walker proposes to cut 393 full-time employees, implement a 3% wage cut for those who remain, and eliminate salary step increases. Walker also wants workers to pay a higher share for their health care coverage and to contribute toward their pensions. Furloughs are also in the works.

Then Walker starts handing out gifts. More vehicles for the sheriff’s department. New aquatics centers. A Bus Rapid Transit running from UWM’s main campus to the county grounds (and paid for largely by the federal government). A new Office of Business Development, which would utilize $18.4 million of Recovery Zone Facility Bonds (hmmm… a stimulus program…. when did Walker become such a fan of the stimulus package?).

And no Walker budget would be complete without privatization. He wants to privatize the county zoo, for no compelling reason, if you ask me. He also seeks to outsource the maintenance of the county’s computer system and some functions of the register of deeds office. He wants to privatize the housekeeping and security services for county facilities.

Walker also brags about his no-tax-increase budgets, but we all know that he proposes an unrealistic budget, the county board fixes it by raising taxes, and he uses that budget as the basis for his next budget. And presto! He’s got a campaign talking point.

I’ll have more about these budgets as I drill down into their details.

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