When it comes to sticking it to the taxpayer, Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic has showed a shrewd level of adeptness. Shortly after County Executive Chris Abele released his proposed 2013 budget, Dimitrijevic called Abele’s tax freeze “out of touch.” Her fix involved raising taxes by $4 million.
The practice of raising taxes is nothing new for the County Board. For years, the Board’s antithetical majority routinely overturned County Executive Walker’s proposed tax freezes. What’s especially surprising is how County Supervisors work from both sides of the bargaining table.
Abele proposed asking employees -- including supervisors -- to pay more for healthcare, but instead of dealing with the rising costs of health insurance like most people, the Board raised taxes while padding their own coverage.
If a good health insurance plan is analogous to a Cadillac, then the Board just gave themselves a Bentley. For Milwaukee County workers on the family insurance plan -- which includes most supervisors -- the maximum out of pocket cost in 2013 is $50. That's not a typo. Fifty dollars will cover their pay in deductibles, tests, and screenings all year.
During her campaign for reelection, Dimitrijevic told a Bay View audience that people don’t mind tax increases. Apparently, this outlook is contagious. Supervisors once thought to be fiscally conscientious like Deanna Alexander, David Cullen, Pat Jursik, Theo Lipscomb, and Russell Stamper gave Abele no cover on his budget proposal. There was at least one supervisor; however, that saw the tax hike for what it was.
"The healthcare amendment passed by the board is nothing short of a pay raise,” said Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo. “Unlike elected officials, people in the private workforce don't have the luxury of digging into their bosses pocket anytime they want a raise."
For obvious reasons, supervisors aren’t permitted to give themselves pay raises; but apparently they found an end-run to this problem. While families in the private sector are forced to make financial sacrifices, their elected officials are making accommodations to insulate themselves.
There is much discussion to be had about county reform and whether the legislature should intervene from the halls of Madison. Perhaps now is not the time to show dysfunction.
Abele has promised to veto the tax increase; but unless supervisors realize they are still stewards of the struggling taxpayer, they are expected to override the vetoes.