In a recent article written by County Supervisor Chris Larson, he lamented the 2011 county budget as quite possibly the worst in Milwaukee County's history.
He stated, "With multi-million dollar deficits built in to this budget by the County Executive, there are tough decisions ahead concerning our parks, transit, public safety, courts, the airport, and every aspect of County government."
Tough decisions there are, but there is no indication that Larson is willing to make them. El Conquistador has acquired 30 pages of budgetary amendments either sponsored or co-sponsored by Supervisor Larson. They amount to nearly $4 million in lost revenue. Let's take a better look.
1. Larson co-sponsored an amendment to block the closings of certain pools and outdoor parks. This amendment cost the county $648,996 in savings.
2. Larson authored an amendment that struck down a 25 cent "cash" fare increase. This amendment cost the county $1.1 million in revenue.
3. Larson sponsored an amendment to impede the elimination of live operators at the Call Center. This measure, if passed, would have cost the county approximately $440,000 in savings.
4. Larson also authored an amendment rejecting a 25 cent "transfer" fee to the busing system. This cost the county another $1.1 million in revenue.
Larson's two amendments stopping the "cash" and "transfer" fees created somewhat of a funding problem for the county. In order to pay for transit's operational costs, the County Board had to borrow $2.2 million against capital funding. Since the interest rate of the loan was 50%, Larson's amendments ended up costing the county an additional $1 million.
In a letter to his constituents, Supervisor Larson complained that the 2010 budget "only succeeded in delaying the looming crisis just a little longer." One would think, therefore, that Larson would be eager to reduce the county deficit rather than grow its size.
We left a message for Mr. Larson asking him how he could justify costing the county $4 million while telling his constituents that County Executive Scott Walker was the one at fault for a "multi-million" budget deficit? Larson has yet to respond to our inquiry.
When we asked County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo how he felt about the county borrowing against capital funds, he said
Using borrowed, long-term capital money to pay for one time operating costs violates one of the most basic rules of finance. It is unbelievably stupid to pay more than $1 million dollars in interest for the use of $2.2 million dollars. Taxpayers will be paying this off for years to come thanks to the individuals who supported this move.
Sanfelippo understood the consequence of borrowing against capital money because earlier this year, he gave a speech at a county board session condemning the action as fiscally irresponsible. Fellow supervisor Joe Rice, of the 6th district, shares Sanfelippo's sentiment. In response to our inquiry, he said
"Amendments that increase spending and/or delete cost savings are indicative of an approach that has led Milwaukee County to the brink of fiscal disaster."
When Patti Wenzel asked Larson during an interview what items, as a state senator, he would like to see cut out of Wisconsin's budget, his answer was that we need to elect Tom Barrett as Governor since he has seen Walker's "built-in deficits". When Wenzel asked Larson what he would consider cutting, Larson only specified what was off-limits.
We saw a similar approach during Obama's third presidential debate in 2008. When the moderator asked Obama where he would cut from a 5 trillion dollar debt, he couldn't specify. He had no problems, however, criticizing John McCain's proposals of spending freezes, zeroed out earmarks, and defense budget reductions. Ideologically, liberals have a hard time governing as fiscal conservatives, except of course when it's time to run for office.
Chris Larson is no dummy. He understands that the 7th district is concerned about growing government deficits. This is why he voted against a series of budget corrections made by the County Board even though he loaded it with spendthrift amendments.
Supervisor Sanfelippo remarked it was ironic that supervisors who scream the loudest about unbalanced budgets are the same ones guilty of extra spending. Sanfelippo told us, "You're either fiscally conservative or you're not, you can't have it both ways."