Currently, Milwaukee County Board supervisors are in a battle with County Executive Scott Walker over the budget process. As with most government budgets, there are disagreements in management philosophy. Walker wants to scale back the size of government and reduce taxes on county residents. The County Board wants to sustain county jobs and raise taxes in order to preserve the county's social programs. In sum, one philosophy is conservative and the other is, well, more expensive.
As the battled raged on, at one point, it escalated out of control. County Board Chairmen, Lee Holloway, lashed out at Walker accusing him of being a race-baiter and compared him to a former Ku Klux Klansman. His actions surprised many, and they elicited a stern rebuke from fellow County Board Supervisors and even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Shortly after, Holloway retracted his accusation comparing Walker to a Ku Klux Klansman.
Part of Milwaukee's fiscal problem is related to a pension scandal that rocked Milwaukee County a few years back. It put the county into a 50 million dollar hole, and has made it difficult to reconcile during a tough recession. Over 100 county employees found a loop hole allowing them to skirt county laws and federal tax rules in order to amp up their own pensions. One employee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, qualified for a 25% pension increase because she worked a half day back in 1978. This pension ordeal has placed a lot of stress on the budget process.
Right now, county governments in Wisconsin have three options to balance their budgets. First, they can raise taxes. This will preserve some government programs and help fill budget holes. Second, they can reduce the amount of government programs. This will cut costs and reduce overall debt. And third, they can reduce the size of the county workforce, which will save taxpayers a bundle in health care benefits and pension costs.
In Manitowoc County, for instance, their Executive has proposed a 5% pay reduction for county employees. In the Eau Claire and Sauk Counties, they are raising property taxes by 3%. In La Cross County, the Executive is raising taxes by 5% and cutting human services. And in Brown County, they are doing all three by cutting social programs, cutting county employee positions, and raising taxes by 1.5%.
In order to fix the mess in Milwaukee County, Executive Scott Walker has proposed a budget that requires a significant sacrifice from county employees while committing to a 0% tax increase. Walker is requiring county employees to take a 3% pay reduction, to make a 5% contribution to their pension, and to pay in 15% of their health care costs. According to Walker, these adjustments will save Milwaukee County taxpayers $41 million in costs.
Although the County Board voted down a union proposal not to lay off county employees, they have a history of resisting government reductions. This puts the County Board in a peculiar situation. On the one side, the AFSCME will fight to prevent any scale-back of employee benefits. On the other side, Scott Walker will veto any item that involves a tax increase on Milwaukee County residents. The Board cannot have it both ways. If they choose to preserve county jobs and county programs, they will have to raise property taxes. If they choose to avoid tax increases, employee concessions are inevitable, which will pit them up against the largest union in Wisconsin. It will be an interesting battle to watch to say the least.