Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sullivan Picks Vital Topic As Campaign Theme

Jim Sullivan, candidate for Milwaukee County Executive, has picked a vital theme for one of the main planks of his campaign - the failing transit system:
Today, Jim Sullivan announced a plan to save our transit system and lower Milwaukee County residents property taxes.
Sullivan will enact the referendum passed by Milwaukee County voters in 2008 and create a dedicated funding source for Milwaukee County Transit System. Dedicated transit funding will allow the county to invest in public transportation and will save property taxpayers thousands of dollars by taking transit off the property tax rolls.
"Milwaukee County is in dire need of a renewed, vibrant transit system and property tax relief. This plan will provide both," candidate for Milwaukee County Executive Jim Sullivan said. "A revitalized transit system is an investment in our community that will attract business and create jobs across our County. I call on all of my opponents to join me in standing up for real solutions to restore our disappearing transit system."
Sullivan for Milwaukee released a petition today, "Save Our Transit," calling for the dedicated funding source that Milwaukee County voters supported in the 2008 referendum.
Jim Sullivan is a common sense leader fighting for working Milwaukee County residents to create jobs, revitalize Milwaukee County services and infrastructure and to ease the tax burden on working families.
The online petition takes only seconds to sign.

I had an opportunity to chat with Sullivan a few weeks ago, and he told me that this was one of his top concerns.  He called the transit system the "lifeblood" of Milwaukee County.  He accurately pointed out that without a healthy transit system, any efforts to restore the regional economy would be greatly hampered, if not impossible.  Sullivan further stated that with a healthy transit system, other things, such as economic development and increased revenue for things like the parks and maintenance of county buildings would become available.

Sullivan also said that one of the main reasons that the transit sales tax failed in the state legislature for the past two years is because Milwaukee County officials were presenting mixed messages to the legislators.  While the County Board actively pursued a viable remedy to the ailing transit system in the form of a dedicated sales tax, former County Executive Scott Walker was more concerned with his political image and how such a sales tax might affect his gubernatorial campaign.  Sullivan said he would work with the County Board to present a unified front and a consistent message in an effort to put pressure on state legislators to do the right thing and honor the people's will.

Sullivan strongly emphasized that his plan would adhere to the original intent of the referendum and not only provide a dedicated funding source for the transit system, but would also give home owners a much needed break by taking the transit system off of the tax levee.

To further exemplify his support for transit, he told me that he had taken the bus to the first debate, which was held downtown.

The only other candidate that has advocated for fixing the transit system is the beleaguered County Board Chairman, Lee Holloway.  However, even Holloway has shown a wavering support for the sales tax.

Ieshuh Griffin has stated opposition to the sales tax, but has not proffered any other solution that I am aware of.

Jeff Stone has also expressed opposition to the sales tax, and like Griffin, doesn't offer any alternative solutions.  Given that Stone has nothing but praise for the way that Walker mismanaged the county, I would not look to him to have a vision, much less a plan.  He is much more likely to let the transit system, as well as our regional economy, go to hell in a hand basket, just to preserve Walker's false image of being a leader if nothing else.

Chris Abele has also expressed opposition to the dedicated sales tax.  I had the opportunity to chat with Abele as well, and had asked him the question of how to fix transit.  His simplistic answer was to simply reconfigure the routes and times of service to increase their efficiency by having them "go from where the people are to where the jobs are and have them go when they're most needed."  I didn't even bother to point out that Milwaukee County has transit riders from all over the region, not just inside the county, that utilizes the transit system to get to all different points of the county.  His stated solution would be the equivalent of picking winners and losers as far as workers as well as businesses.  If you happen to live in an unfavored part of town, or have your business in an area that is deemed not to be of sufficient value, under Abele's plan, you would be out of luck.

Another concern is that Abele has also touted a plan to save tax payers $2 million in taxes in short order, but never goes into specifics on how he would do that.  However, Abele is also on the board for the Greater Milwaukee Committee, which commissioned the Public Policy Forum to conduct a very specific study regarding county finances and the results of various privatization plans.  In this study, one of the possible scenarios outlined (Scenario 3, for those following along at home) would correspond to about $2 million is projected savings.  This option would include spinning off the transit system, as well as the airport, the zoo and the parks, into special districts/ separate taxing authorities with their own.  Given Abele's first TV commercial, in which he is touting these studies that he and the GMC commissioned, there is no reason to believe that this report won't be among his plans for Milwaukee County.

I don't see the need or the appropriateness of having four more unelected taxing authorities to oversee any of these functions.  The problem is not the management of any of the systems, but simply the lack of funding.  By allowing these programs to go under the auspices of independent bodies, it not only takes any say away from the tax payers, but greatly increases the risk of having their taxes skyrocket.

In summary, we have five candidates with different plans when it comes to the Milwaukee County Transit System:

  • Ieshuh Griffin opposes a dedicated funding, but offers no other solutions
  • Jeff Stone not only opposes the sales tax, but is more than willing to help the transit system, and the economy with it, to the breaking point
  • Lee Holloway is taking the spaghetti approach, flinging everything out there in hopes that something will stick
  • Chris Abele would spin off the transit into an unelected taxing authority, with the only option to be to raise property taxes to the detriment of home owners and no guarantee of better service.
  • Jim Sullivan would join with the County Board to put pressure on the state legislature and the governor to finally provide a dedicated sales tax as voters called for more than two years ago, which would not only restore the transit system but give tax payers a much needed break.
Obviously, the best choice would be Sullivan's, which would provide ample funding to get the transit system, and subsequently the local economy, back to healthier times as well as give a break to home owner's across Milwaukee County.  And while you're at it, don't forget to sign the petition for a better transit system and a better, job creating economy.


  1. You're making the assumption that anything which would be spun off would be managed by an "unelected taxing authority".

    While it's something that opponents of separate districts have cited as a reason for opposition, it's not true. SB 248 of the 07-08 legislative session, which was the closest thing in recent history to call for a district, expressly stated the commissioners of it would be elected and non-paid. It's always boggled my mind as to where the "unelected taxing authority!!" complaints come from, because they're just not true.

    Nor would parks, transit, airport and cultural each have their own taxing authority under any proposals that I've heard in recent years.

    As for the, "It's not the management, it's the funding", I disagree a bit. The fact is that the management over the past 30 years has been responsible for the funding of parks & transit and look where things are at now. The management has been responsible for funding and has had decades to deal with the funding aspect of parks and transit.

  2. Dan,

    What is the Board supposed to do, set up their own printing press? You know darn well that the state has been shortchanging the county for decades, and so the Board is forced to prioritize mandated services over things like transit and the parks.

    But even you have admitted that the County has done wonders with their dwindling funding source. So, no, it's not management.

    I also think that it would be fair to point out that as head of the Park People, it is on your agenda to create one of these authorities, which I disagree with, given how poorly it turned out in New York City.

    The parks, as well as transit, etc., need to remain public, and to do that, it needs to be under public control.

  3. Again there's some misinformation here... things like park districts would be under public control just as much as the County Board, MPS board or Common Council. Why are you implying they wouldn't be by saying they need to "remain public"?

    For every New York district (which one are you talking about exactly by the way, and how has it turned out poorly?) I can point to one in St. Louis, San Diego, Illinois, Denver, Seattle and throughout California to show how well it can work.

    the Board is forced to prioritize mandated services over things like transit and the parks. - Exactly, and they've done a heck of a job. But again, you're saying they've done all they can with parks and transit while saying there's nothing else they could do given the circumstances of multiple services vying for the same money.

    Which is it? This is exactly the reason by the way that other municipalities have gone with districts. It takes quality of life services out of direct competition with mandated human services which is exactly the problem we have in Milwaukee. Both fight over the same pool of money and each is worse off for it.

    Again, I'd ask you or anyone to actually state why you're against districts when you consider they'd be public, accountable, elected and have a focused agenda?

    Also consider that the park system has only been under County governance control since the early 80's. A lot of people seem to think it would be sacrosanct to switch it away from the County even though it's been under County control for a small percentage of it's history.

    Before that, it was under the governance of a number of commissioners (district!) and was at it's high point. The downturn of parks and beginning of deferred maintenance directly coincide with the switch to County governance.

    As for the Park People's involvement, we've been advocating for a secure dedicated funding source for years and were a major factor in pushing the 1% sales tax two years ago in Milwaukee and after that in the legislature. A district would provide that secure dedicated funding source which is consistent with our "agenda" for Milwaukee County Parks. If you choose to look at decisions like this as what's best for Milwaukee County Parks, it becomes apparent why we, and I personally, am supportive of the proposal. Especially when the alternative is to continue down the same road of deferred maintenance and decreased support for parks we've been going down for 30+ years.

  4. The dedicated funding source would eliminate the concern about the Board being forced to make those choices, without adding another layer of bureaucracy.

    In these days, consolidation makes much more sense than creating more governing bodies with taxing authorities that don't have to take the whole picture into account.

    In other words, the regional authority is simply not needed nor beneficial.

  5. So by that rational you're against a regional transit authority as well?

    The fact is there are opportunities for consolidation of parks in the region with a district. Other municipalities could consolidate their own parks into the district creating more efficiency for managing and maintaining the region's park system.

    At any rate, it sounds like you're less interested in what's best for the parks in Milwaukee and more interested in what's best for the current governance structure, which is fine, but also the reason we're in the situation we're in today with how we fund our quality of life services.

  6. Actually, I've been saying all along that the RTA isn't appropriate, at least not yet, given the horrid state of MCTS. If the state leggies had done their job correctly, and just ran the bills the way it was worded in the referendum, we probably wouldn't even be having this conversation right now.

    Instead, Doyle and Democrats just had to go and screw with it, adding the regional authorities for transit and for the parks. That is what killed both of them.

    One can also consolidate services without the extra bureaucracy. So actually, I'm trying to go with what is best for the parks AND for the tax payers.

  7. The real problem with the County Parks system is all of the tax paying revenue goes to a bloated egocentric driven management overkill that has eliminated all of the lower paid unionized park workers and replaced them with higher titled workers whom many perform quasi-supervisory duties. This goes on despite the fact that there are 54 management positions in the Parks Department with ten of those management positions earning executive compensation salaries from 70K-120K/year.
    Now contrast that with the Department of Public Works which is made up of five divisions; directors office, fleet maintenance, facilities maintenance, highway maintenance and General Mitchell International Airport. Public works has a total of fifty-five managers, yet they supervise and manage hundreds of more employees than the parks does and are responsible for public safety on our roads, highways and two airports. But it gets even better, highway is 80% funded by the State of Wisconsin and the airports are entirely funded by the airlines which means lower costs to property tax payers.
    The real question for the average tax payer is why does DPW, which represents so much more in infrastructure and overall employees, have 55 managers and why does the Parks Department need 54. Clearly our government has failed by allowing Parks Director Black to create such a high priced management while eliminating the lowest priced workforce. Who benefits from this outrageous scheme? Obviously, Director Black and her cronies. You wonder where the outrage is over the cost of the pension scandal and it's outrageous payments when its this very glut of overpaid and overstaffed managers that are the ones walking away with all of the $. Wake up taxpayers, you have been screwed and fleeced royally by the County and Parks Director Black. They hold up a gold medal to hide how they have taken all of your tax dollars to fund their own personal retirement excesses. It's time to hold these people accountable!