Thursday, October 16, 2008

Scott Walker: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Last week, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker had a major hissy fit about the County Board sending out an informational mailing regarding the sales tax referendum that will appear on the November 4 ballot.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story about Walker's outrage:

A planned mailing from the Milwaukee County Board to voters on the November sales tax referendum should be halted as inappropriate advocacy, County Executive Scott Walker said Wednesday.


Walker acknowledged the letter was within the law but said it was biased in favor of the sales tax increase proposal. County Board spokesman Harold Mester called the letter factual and neutral.


Walker called the mailing “outrageous.” He strongly opposes the sales tax increase and tried unsuccessfully to stop the referendum. Even though the letter may be technically legal, it still reads like propaganda aimed at persuading voters to support raising the sales tax, he said.
The very next day, the supposedly liberal editorial board of MSJ fell into line behind Walker with an editorial echoing Walker's outrage:

While the mailer apparently falls within the legal boundaries of what officials can do on referendums — state law prohibits them from advocating in a referendum, but it does allow for informational activities — the letter sends a distinct signal: The advisory referendum is a good idea. Just because “so, vote yes” isn’t explicitly written doesn’t mean it’s not there, in spirit and intent. That’s an inappropriate message for officials to send with taxpayer dollars.


Holloway argues that the mailing provides necessary information and that the County Board “should encourage voters to participate, regardless of their opinion.” He’s right, but the board shouldn’t advocate. We hope someone does step forward to get that useful information to the electorate. And we hope someone steps forward with the counterarguments for a vigorous debate. But none of the advocacy should be done with tax dollars.


But taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for a mailing that seems to favor one argument over the other. The mailing comes too close to advocacy. It shouldn’t go out.
I wrote earlier this week that I thought it was questionable of the Board to take this action, but couldn't quite work up the outrage given some of the questionable actions of Walker, with his constant phoning in and emailing to talk shows like Charlie Sykes, Jay Webber, and Vicki McKenna.

But the real outrage is Walker's hypocrisy. While he is lambasting the County Board for wasting tax payer dollars on alleged advocacy regarding the sales tax referendum, he is doing the same damn thing.

On the official Milwaukee County website, Walker has his own page, which, again, is official property of Milwaukee County. A link on Walker's page leads one to another County website called Executive Updates, and is all full of Walker's newsletters. These newsletters are supposed to be informative and let the reader know of upcoming events, improvements to various County properties like the Zoo or the parks, and the such.

Walker's newsletter dated October 10, 2008 opens up to a two-page newsletter. The first page is all about Walker's outrage regarding the referendum and the Board's mailing.

In the left column is an editorial piece called "Message from County Executive
Walker" and it reads like one of his political press releases:

Supporters of the referendum to raise the sales tax by $130 million want to use our tax dollars to send an "informational" mailing out to the voters in Milwaukee County just weeks before the November 4th election.

Anyone can see that the "informational" letter being sent out to voters contains more than just the facts. It is clearly designed to sway voters to their position on the referendum question.

Worst of all, the very same taxpayers who will get stuck paying the bill on a $130 million tax increase (if the sales tax goes through) are the same people getting the
bill for the mailing and printing costs of the "informational" letter. All of this comes just weeks after the I asked all county departments to freeze travel and other
non-essential spending.

The Supervisors who are pushing this letter are the same ones who expect voters to believe that raising the sales tax will somehow lower our property taxes. It did not happen the last time the sales tax went up. In 1991, the County Board passed a sales tax with the promise of property tax relief. From 1992 to 2002, the tax levy went up 55%.

These are the facts but we are not going to use taxpayers funds to print them out and put them in a letter to voters.


P.S. Kudos to Supervisors Borkowski, Cesarz, Rice and Sanfelippo. They all rejected Chairman Holloway's request to send the mailing into their districts.
Good Lord, but if that doesn't sound like someone advocating against the referendum, I don't know what does. It is also chock full of half-truths and misinformation.

Walker doesn't mention that the County was having to increase taxes because the state legislature, of which he was a member at that time, kept short changing the County on mandated services. Much like he is griping about every year around budget time.

And for the truth about the referendum, you can visit the website for the Quality of Life Alliance by clicking here, or clicking on that big yellow icon in the sidebar.

The worst part is that he is doing this on an official County website, which was designed, supported and updated with the use of our tax dollars. For him to lambaste the Board for doing the exact same thing he does is the height of hypocrisy.

And if that wasn't enough, he continues in the next column, boasting about his press conference to express his faux and hypocritical hypocrisy:

...Walker pointed to Waukesha County businesses as the beneficiary of a sales tax increase in Milwaukee County. A new sales tax that is a full 1.5% higher than several of our neighbors - and the highest in the state - would create a tax island. At a time when the 2008 budget is tight, Walker asks why members of the County Board are spending funds on a campaign mailing to voters just before the November election.
Now, I am not a lawyer. Nor am I an expert on all the ins and outs of using governmental property for politicking. But if Walker and the MJS editorial board feel that the County Board's action, while perfectly legal, smacked to much of advocacy, what the heck are we supposed to make out of Walker's blatant use of County resources to advocate against the sales tax referendum?

To me it seems fairly obvious that if this doesn't run aground of the law, it should definitely be in the area of an ethics violation.

It is my understanding that this has been or is about to be referred to County District Attorney John Chisolm's office. It is also my understanding that members of the County Board have been made aware of Walker's misuse of County resources. I don't know if anything will come of this, but I will keep you, gentle reader, apprised of things as I learn of them.

If you are as angry at Walker's hypocrisy as I am, I encourage you to contact his office to express your anger. It also would be a good thing to let your County Supervisor know of your anger as well. You can find your Supervisor's name and contact information here.

And while we're at it, can we do that recall yet?

ADDENDUM: Not only does Walker use County property to expound his political points, but it is doubtful that Walker would have the necessary skill to produce these newsletters. The additional question would be then: Who did the work, and how were they paid? Was the author county employees? And if not, were tax payers monies used to pay whomever wrote and produced these "newsletters"?

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