Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Abele's Fudged Budget Numbers

When Milwaukee County Emperor Chris Abele presented his proposed budget for 2014, he made some grandiose statements, including this doozy:
Before looking forward to the 2014 Budget, I want to take a quick look back to 2011 when I took office. In 2011, the Public Policy Forum looked at Milwaukee County’s fiscal trend and
predicted that by 2014 the County would be facing an $86 million deficit. Think about that for a minute, an $86 million deficit: that’s more than the entire budgets of the Parks Department, the
Zoo and the Department on Aging combined.

There were a lot of reasons and many choices that led to that dangerous trend. But I’m happy to say that, because of the difficult budget decisions we have made the past two years, we are in
much better shape today. As a direct result, we have been able to protect the County’s most valued services from cuts. Instead of an $86 million deficit, the challenge we actually confronted
in putting this budget together was a $15 million deficit. That’s still too high, but it’s a $71 million dollar swing in the right direction.
That raised a red flag for me.

Abele's predecessor, Scott Walker, used to use scary deficit numbers to justify his attacks on county workers. One of the most notable of those incidents came in 2009, when he claimed a a huge deficit to put workers on an indefinite reduced work week. The union cried foul on Walker's stunt and the matter ended up before an arbitrator.

Lo and behold, when the actual facts were presented, it turned out that there was no deficit:
The arbitrator also found other flaws with Walker's actions. These include the fact that Walker had failed to show that the County's projected deficit was severe enough to warrant such drastic actions. In fact, it was in the testimony that Walker's chief number cruncher, Steve Kreklow, admitted that the deficit was only one third the number of what Walker has been reporting. And even the new lower number of $4.5 million is almost seven times the number that the award-winning County Auditor found it to be.
It didn't take long though for this to become just a footnote in bigger problems for the county.

Even before the County Board could do its review of the budget, it was disclosed that there was a $1.5 million error in the budget due to Abele's budget director, Josh Fudge, being unable to figure out the difference between adding and subtracting:
Part of the paratransit mistake was due to a computer entry error and to initially failing to take into account the full costs of the discount fare measure, Fudge wrote in a memo to supervisors.

"While mistakes are inevitable in the preparation of a $1.3 billion budget, I regret this error and take responsibility for it," Fudge wrote. The County Board approved his appointment as budget director last week.

Fudge notes that the $1.5 million error represents less than 1% of the county's $159 million transit budget proposed for next year. The $1.5 million also is more than 8% of the $18 million tax levy portion of the transit budget Abele recommends for 2014.
Again, this produced a feeling of deja vu.

Fudge was one of Walker's number crunchers. Now he's Abele's budget director.

When Fudge was helping craft Walker's fanciful, folly-filled budgets, I thought the errors came because he was too busy reading and responding on political blogs* such as this one, much like his fellow Walker employee, Darlene Wink. For all I know, Fudge is still doing that. Abele's emails show that he has other members his staff monitoring blogs on a regular basis, so why not Fudge as well?

Sadly, it turns out that that $1.5 million screw up was just the first one.

It is now being reported that the mistakes in Abele's budget is totally up to more than $3 million:
The $2.1 million in errors were due to miscalculations, including understating the cost of Abele's proposal to cut paratransit fares for frail elderly and disabled riders by $1, to $3 a ride; and low-balling the cost of salaries of deputies who work as bailiffs.

[County Comptroller Scott] Manske apologized for overstating a fund transfer expected from airport revenue by $920,000, a figure relied on by Abele's staff in crafting his 2014 budget.
The article also points out that Abele is not including $1.5 million in payments for the use of a water tower in Wauwatosa.

So much for his claims to want to increase revenue. The only revenue he apparently wants to increase is that headed towards his fellow plutocrats at the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

I also should point out that the county comptroller position was something that was opposed by the citizens of Milwaukee as well as the County Board, but Abele did a end run to the state legislature to get the position created because it was, per Abele, absolutely necessary to save money.

Not that anyone would notice due to the duplication of services with the controller position or by screw ups like this one.

Oh well, at least we can feel confident that the County Board's staff will pick up on any further mistakes - oh, wait - that's right.  Another one of Abele's brainstorms was Act 14, the Usurpation Law, which cut their staff down next to nothing while Abele could hire all he wants.

Well then, maybe the Board could temporarily hire a retiree to help straighten out the budget, like they did last year - oh, wait - Act 14 doesn't allow them to do that, even though Abele can hire all the retirees he wants.

Yeah, it's pretty much a FUBAR.  So when your taxes go up and your services go down, don't blame the Board.  They'll be able to do only so much with what they are left to work with.

But somehow, I don't expect the spoiled, immature brat Abele to take any responsibility for the consequences of this tantrums.

*Yes, Mr. Fudge not only would read and comment on blogs, he would even save them to his work computer, as these images show:

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