A Taxpayer's Budget

 

Thursday I introduced my eighth annual budget as Milwaukee County Executive, and as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted, I have once again kept my pledge not to raise taxes.

I was delighted to see that the Journal Sentinel supports our priorities to fully fund and in some cases expand funding for safety net programs for low-income families, children, veterans, and people with disabilities. The paper even supports our efforts to rein in public employee benefits to reflect the taxpayers’ ability to pay, and it says our proposal to allow a non-profit organization to run the Milwaukee County Zoo deserves a fair discussion.

"To be sure, there are things to like about Walker's budget. His proposals on parks and swimming pools make sense; he is holding the line on not cutting bus routes, and he is creating a bus rapid transit line; county funding for the Family Care program for adults under age 60 with disabilities would increase by $4.5 million to dovetail with a state expansion; support services for people with disabilities would be spared from cuts. And his privatization efforts deserve a full and fair discussion.

It also is reasonable to ask county employees to take a pay cut and to contribute more to their pensions and health care benefits. Taxpayers throughout the county have lost jobs, taken pay cuts, been required to take unpaid furloughs and have had to pay more for their benefits. They will have little sympathy for government employees who resist taking at least some hits."

Yet at the same time the newspaper recognizes that so many private sector workers are seeing their wages and benefits frozen or cut to preserve jobs, the newspaper is calling on the county board to raise taxes on families and employers who are already struggling to make ends meet. The paper says the tough economic times justify a modest tax increase to avoid cutting spending and reducing the taxpayer funded workforce. I completely disagree.

Now is not the time to experiment with new taxes or to take no action hoping the current trend will simply reverse itself. Instead we must do everything in our power to spur economic development and to reduce the short and long term liability for families and employers in Milwaukee County.

My budget balances the importance of maintaining vital human services and investing in our future, with the need to control the growth of government through these five simple objectives:

1. Make it affordable to live and work in our county.

2. Create an environment to retain and attract jobs.

3. Maintain a high quality of life for our citizens.

4. Provide a balance between public and private sector employee benefits.

5. Reform the budget process to insure that the county is financially viable into the future.

You can read my speech to the County Board. Or you can watch it.

I hope you’ll join me in fighting for passage of the 2009 Taxpayer’s Budget.

Milwaukee Works Plan Gains Momentum

Our 2010 Milwaukee County budget includes an aggressive economic development plan.

Milwaukee County Works, in the Executive Office of Business Development, will partner with existing employers and new businesses to foster economic development and job growth. In an effort to jumpstart our local economy, our budget accelerates the county building program by beginning $395 million for projects to be started by the end of 2010. By accelerating our building program, the county will save over $3 million in interest payments for taxpayers while lowering our outstanding debt level by 28% as compared to 2002 when I was first elected.

The plan includes $38.6 million to rebuild highways, bridges and roads; $142 million in Airport improvements; over $38 million for park improvements and over $25 million for county facility upgrades.

I was excited to read a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that says our plan is already gaining momentum among community development organizations and members of the County Board.

"Despite some skepticism, Milwaukee County supervisors will likely find County Executive Scott Walker's big-splash move into economic development hard to resist.

One of the marquee provisions of Walker's 2010 county budget is creation of a new county office of business development, to be armed with a mother lode of bonding authority the county executive says will help rain aid on a recession-ravaged community.

Walker's critics see the move as a ploy to bolster his Republican campaign for governor in 2010, but they also like the program's potential. The $147 million in accelerated borrowing he wants to do in late 2009 and in 2010, on top of airport and other previously approved projects, adds up to almost $400 million. That will generate about 1,000 jobs for roads, bridges, parks and other construction, Walker says.

He said he expects the County Board, a frequent foil, will buy into his economic development move.

"I would hate to be the one to say; 'I was against more jobs,' " Walker said."

The report said Supervisor Toni Clark, chairwoman of the County Board's Economic and Community Development Committee, sees potential in our economic development plan. Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce President Tim Sheehy said the plan would provide outside economic development groups like MMAC and the Milwaukee 7 with an important touch point in county government.

I look forward to working with the members of the county board and other stakeholders and opinion leaders to build a stronger, more vibrant Milwaukee County.

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