Compiled By Milwaukee Courier Staff
Milwaukee County has once again found itself in an intense budget standoff. At the heart of the budget dispute is whether to increase the Milwaukee County vehicle registration fee by $30. This contentious issue was rejected by Milwaukee voters in the advisory referendum this past Spring. Unfortunately, voters were not presented with a fair choice in this referendum. While we know many of our readers voted against this increase in April, how many would change their vote if they knew bus routes, road repairs, senior centers, parks, pools, public safety programs, and other vital social services were on the chopping block without the new revenue? This is the choice Milwaukee County faces in the current budget debate.
This year, County Executive Chris Abele included this increase in the vehicle registration fee in his budget to cover part of Milwaukee County’s structural deficit. Every year, Milwaukee County faces the dual financial problem of declining aid from the state of Wisconsin and increasing legacy costs, such as pension obligations. Rather than cutting social services and programs, Abele included new revenue from the vehicle registration, which would help fund his budget priorities, such as $1.1 million toward fighting the opioid epidemic across Milwaukee County.
In our view, Abele’s budget makes the critical investments needed for continued economic growth and job creation. His budget protects public transit and County parks. He continues funding workforce development and job training programs such as UpLift Milwaukee, and his budget enhances the work of the newly developed Office of African American Affairs, which is making progress within our community.
In response to Abele’s proposed budget, Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb proposed an amendment which removed the new revenue from the budget and offset the loss of revenue with budget cuts, including cuts to nearly every Milwaukee County department. His budget cuts include deep cuts to road repairs across the County which will negatively impact our pocket books and public safety. Lipscomb’s cuts to the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department and Emergency Management will hurt public safety.
Lipscomb’s cut of nearly $1 million to public transit will shut down bus routes. Lipscomb’s cuts to County parks will force layoffs or park closures. Lipscomb’s cuts to the Department of Aging will hurt seniors, and his cuts to Mitchell International Airport and the Milwaukee County Zoo are not even necessary to balance the budget, but they found their way on his list of cuts anyway.
There are a lot of problems with Theo Lipscomb’s budget cuts. First, the budget proposed by County Executive Abele already includes some spending reductions and savings through efficiencies. Lipscomb takes Abele’s balanced budget, removes new revenues, and balances the budget almost entirely through budget cuts. Even worse, Lipscomb’s budget includes many one-time savings, meaning the budget deficit will be even worse next year. If the County Board adopts Lipscomb’s budget cuts, there will be even more severe cuts next year and the year after that.
Lipscomb’s extreme budget cuts are what we would expect to see from former County Executive Scott Walker. These are unnecessary austerity measures, plain and simple. That’s why we were particularly disappointed that many liberal Supervisors who represent the city of Milwaukee on the County Board voted for this conservative budget in committee. We hope they correct their mistake when the full board votes on the budget later this week.
Budget cuts this severe have real consequences for our communities and families. While nobody likes the idea of increasing the vehicle registration fee, the proposed budget cuts will be far more painful for Milwaukee residents. We urge the County Board to reject Chairman Lipscomb’s budget cuts and adopt County Executive Abele’s budget instead.