Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Red Herring Referendum

In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about a controversial legislative bill written and being pushed by the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC)* and being sponsored by Teapublicans Joe Sanfelippo and Alberta Darling.

The GMC and their sockpuppets are pushing this piece of offal as a chance for taxpayers to "stick it to the man," by voting to slash the salaries of the Milwaukee County Supervisors.

What they aren't telling the voters is that this is a double edged sword and as they slash the board's pay, they're delivering the coup de grĂ¢ce to themselves in a relatively meaningless vote.

The original referendum was to ask if the county board's salary should be cut from it's current $50,000 a year to $15,000 (which would make it minimum wage) and to cut the board's operating budget from $6.5 million to $1 million.  That would effectively wipe out all the support staff, including clerks, receptionists and analysts.

Sanfelippo has since removed the budget part of the question from the referendum, meaning that even if the board's salaries would remain in tact, they're would be no one to record the meetings, track the votes or do the research on the cost and impact of any proposed budget or other piece of legislation.  They would be forced to go on the word of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who has proven himself to be just as dishonest and unscrupulous as Scott Walker ever was, and in some ways, Abele's even worse.

Now, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that Sanfelippo is planning on introducing a second bill which would delineate the duties, responsibilities of the county board and the county executive.  Sanfelippo wouldn't give any details, but you can bet your bottom dollar that it will consolidate power in the hands of the county executive.

All of this fits in very well with the GMC agenda, which has an eerie resemblance to that of the ALEC-controlled Republicans.

We saw the ALEC version in Michigan when they introduced the concept of Fiscal Emergency Managers, which was a sort of fiscal martial law.  The state would claim that a school district, a city or a county was in a fiscal crisis and then would literally take over the entity by deposing all the elected officials and having the governor put in one of his political appointees.

As one might imagine, this proved to be rather unpopular with the people and was ultimately abolished through a populist, grassroots movement.

Two years ago, GMC came out with their own ALEC styled agenda for Milwaukee County.  This included privatizing many services, such as the airport, the zoo and spinning off whatever parks they couldn't sell and the transit system.  They had other items on their wish list, as we had listed at Milwaukee County First:
Other ideas are not as responsible, but are politically popular among certain factions, such as creating a regional authority for transit and one for the parks.  The demand for a transit authority as opposed the the dedicated sales tax that the people wanted has led us to where we are now, with a transit system that is on the verge of collapse and will suffer severe cuts as it is.  We’ve also seen the dangers of taking away public control of the parks, thanks to the New Yorkers who have lost theirs.

Some of their other initiatives include:
  • Severely slash the number of supervisory districts (which would also slash representation for minorities and create an unfair balance on the board, reduce the quality of representation and not save any money).
  • Balance the leftover deficit from Scott Walker on the backs of workers as well as the poor, the disabled and elderly.
  • Outsource most services to either the municipalities, the state or to private vendors, all of which will further reduces services and/or raise taxes.
  • Replace the treasurer with a comptroller
  • Severely alter mental health services (endangering the entire community as well as those requiring in patient treatment)
  • Merge benefits such as the retirement and health care systems with the state (which, under the current administration, is extremely unstable – much better would be to join with the municipalities in the county.
But their most notorious initiative is calling for a statewide “Local Government Flexibility Toolkit,” which would include putting Milwaukee County under a “fiscal stress test.”
They have already started cutting services and have far exceeded the cuts Act 10 called for. Likewise, they've already gotten their comptroller and are well on their way to closing the mental health complex even though they don't have the resources to protect the patients or the public.  In his last budget, Abele tried to abdicate his duties by subcontracting the park patrols to the City of Milwaukee.

In other words, they're well on their way to taking over Milwaukee County absolutely so that they can finish it off - death by austerity.

And as Ed Garvey pointed out two years ago, GMC had already retained the services of the law firm Foley and Lardner to draft this bill.  Although the terminology is toned down from the Michigan law, the principles are the same.

What the GMC is trying to foist upon us through Sanfelippo and Darling is a modified version of a fiscal emergency manager.  Even worse, they are trying to get us to put the last nail in our own coffin.

And this should matter to everyone in the state, whether they live in Milwaukee County or not.  The bill cannot specify Milwaukee County, so they get around that by saying counties with a population over 500,000, which is only Milwaukee County.  But Dane County is very close to that threshold and when they surpass it, they will also be subject to the same laws.

Furthermore, there is nothing to say that the Republicans wouldn't tweak the law to address other things, such as a town or a county that, let's say for discussion's sake,  doesn't allow mining in their area.  Why, then the state could just declare them in a state of fiscal emergency and take it over to get whatever they want approved.

For all practical purposes, this is a move to usurp local control and put it squarely in the hands of the well-moneyed special interests.  In other words, this is a modified version of the fiscal emergency manager scheme.  Call it what you will, but that is only arguing semantics.

But I can guarantee you is that when you have such a partisan bill that is supported only by Republicans, the plutocrats and those beholden to them, it is a bad, bad bill.

*By the way, did you know that Michael Grebe - head of the Bradley Foundation and Walker's campaign chair - is also on the board of the GMC.  Lovely group, aren't they?


  1. Speaking of Foley & Lardner's agenda via GMC, Teapublican and former Rep Scott Klug is all wrapped up in that...

  2. 2010, redistricting, and last years election disappointments,I've been watching Synder and Michigan (EFM bs)very closely. Sadly, they are the canary in the coalmine.

    This would be a disastrous asset grab. The possibility of selling off public utilities (water dept, etc) This is scary stuff indeed.

    Hard to read, seems like it was tough to write. Thanks

  3. Take some time and find out how much is given in Tax Incentives and subsidies.. look at Walmart and Film industries as a start. They are giving far more to Millionaire Corporations and should be accountable for this. It might be under the Major's slush fund. Budgets must include even hidden revenue loses.

  4. To me it all this and the rich boys wanting their new man toy Bradley Center. Abele won't hesitate to put in a tax for it.

  5. Milwaukee County Board has dropped from 25 to 18 members over the last 10 years. Not sure how much more "reform" is needed or if this is just a move to reduce accountability by using people's disgust from the pension scandal over a decade ago.

    1. This has nothing to do with the pension scandal.

    2. They are using the distrust of the board from the pension scandal to diminish the power of the board.