Monthly Archives: February 2011

Waiting for the Coming Cuts …

We should know more Tuesday about the scope of cuts South Milwaukee will face with in coming months, as Gov. Scott Walker delivers his budget address.

It surely won’t be pretty, as we prepare for a significant cut in shared revenue from the state.

As you can see in our 2011 budget, shared revenue is a significant line item for us. We were projecting more than $3.1 million in these types of revenuves this year, the same as our 2010 budgeted amount, but more than $100,000 less than what we received in 2009.  

So even a 10 percent cut in this line item is significant — potentially more than a $300,000 hit to a budget that is already fat-free. At this point, any additional cuts are almost certainly going to mean a reduction in services … and that’s a sobering thought.

I’ll keep you posted as we begin to navigate through this.

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Advance Auto Parts Eyes Grant Park Plaza Site

It appears, thankfully, that the eyesore of the vacant outlot building at Grant Park Plaza won’t stay an eyesore for long.

Advance Auto Parts is interested in adding a location there, modifying the space previously held by Blockbuser and Verizon Wireless.

The item is on the Plan Commission agenda for Monday and Tuesday’s City Council agenda. I’ll keep you posted.

There are also Advance stores in Oak Creek and St. Francis.

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What About the Rest of Us? A Word on “Faux Mandates”

On Jan. 1, Journal Sentinel colunmnist and respected local historian John Gurda wrote a column for the Sunday paper headlined: “Beware Faux Mandates: Other Politicians Through History Have Mistaken Election for Mandate.”

I can’t get that column out of my mind these days. Because it was so prophetic … and so right.

Gurda wrote:

Scott Walker is skating rather blithely on the same thin ice as Ryan. He defeated Tom Barrett 52% to 47% in November. That’s a five-point spread – decisive, but hardly a landslide.

Walker has to live – and govern – with the knowledge that nearly half the state’s voters don’t want him in the executive mansion, and that some of his loyal supporters disagree sharply with his opposition to high-speed rail.

True humility in his situation might suggest a conciliatory, consensus-building approach, but Walker has plunged ahead with the spotless conscience of the utterly convinced, a man forever untroubled by shades of gray. Acting for all the world as if he had a mandate, the governor-elect who won’t even hold office until tomorrow has already scuttled the high-speed rail project and cowed the Legislature into leaving the state employees’ labor contract on the table.

So, I ask: Where is the mandate? Where is undeniable support for making the sweeping changes Walker has already led since being elected, especially the union-busting legislation he is pushing through now?

If Walker had beaten Barrett 60-40%, or even 55-45%, that might be another story. But we are talking about five percentage points here — a closer race than many, including me, predicted. Five points. I ask again, where is the mandate?

Of course, Walker has strong support from his base on his so-called “budget repair bill.” The people who love Scott Walker love that he is out to essentially put an end to collective bargaining and, in turn, public sector unions. That much is clear.

But just how many people is that, exactly? Fifty percent of the state? Less? What about the rest of us? What about the tens of thousands of protesters who are showing up in Madison day after day to fight against this legislation (including Saturday)? Do their voices count here? Does my voice count?

Now, I’m not blind to the fact that, on the whole, there was a historic Republican wave in Wisconsin in the November elections. The governorship, the state legislature, a U.S. Senate seat and several Congressional races all turned over toward Republicans. I get that, although I argue this “throw the bums out” mentality will be the norm, not the excpection, moving forward in state and national politics, including 2014.

That said, even the 2010 election was no mandate, certainly not Walker’s disappointing showing against Barrett. I just wish Walker would stop treating it like one and, as Gurda writes, quit plunging “ahead with the spotless conscience of the utterly convinced, a man forever untroubled by shades of gray.”

Walker needs to compromise on the collective bargaining issue, as unlikely (impossible) as that is. 

But don’t take my word for it — listen to the more than one million people who voted for Barrett … and the countless others who may not have voted in November but, if the election were held today, would run to the polls to sweep Walker from office.

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It Was a Great Ride: Bike Race Not Returning in 2011

Well, it was fun while it lasted. Even if it was for one year.

Sorry I haven’t blogged on this yet (the governor’s anti-union legislation has taken up much of my blogging time these days), but the City Council essentially sealed the fate of the International Cycling Classic bike race at its last meeting by not reviving it.

As you will recall, Bucyrus International announced last fall that it would not sponsor the event, which was known as the Bucyrus International Cycling Classic in 2010, again this year. This, combined with the chairwoman of the committee not wanting to fill that role again in 2011, put the race in jeopardy.

However, I worked with the ICC to secure a pledge of $7,500 from Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare to pay half of the “site fee” for 2011. Fundraising was underway for the rest of the $15,000 fee, and additional funds, when the council voted in late January to extend an opt-out clause in our contract with the ICC until March.

Then it got complicated. The race was formally cancelled when the city did not receive necessary paperwork in time from the ICC regarding the extension. It’s a long story, but this was ultimately due to the paperwork being sent to the wrong email address.

The City Council debated the issue at its Feb. 16 meeting, and no motion was made to revive the race (nor, I suspect, would a motion have been supported had it been made). So the event remains cancelled.

And I do not expect any additional efforts to bring back the race for 2011.

I feel bad this happened, and I hope we can one day bring it back. I continue to support the race and see it as a great way to market our city to a new and diverse audience while also delivering a fun and exciting spectator event for our residents and others.

We simply did not do this event justice. In order for something like this to work, it has to be a multi-year commitment. I know the Cycling Classic would have been better in 2011, even better in 2012, better still in 2013.

Imagine if we had killed Evening on the Avenue after its first year … a decision that could have easily been made due to low participation early on. The community would have been robbed of a special celebration without giving it a chance.

I feel that way about the bike race. I’ve seen this work in other communities, where it has turned into a memorable event that the city looks forward to every year. I was hoping that could happen here. Unfortunately, it won’t … and that’s a loss for South Milwaukee.

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School District Puts Off the Pain, But Only Temporarily

I just saw the following note on the South Milwaukee School District website …

The 2011-2012 budget recommendations will not be discussed at the February 23, 2011 School Board meeting due to the lack of a state budget.  Recommendations will be discussed at the March 2, 2011 meeting.

So stay tuned. This won’t be pretty.

It also begs the question: What’s left to cut? Check out this list of school district cuts since 2003. It’s stunningly long, and depressing, and it provides some context around the new labor deals approved by the School Board and ratified by the unions last week.

The only glimmer of hope here is that there are very dedicated and smart people at all levels of the school district — from the School Board and administration on down — that I know will act fairly and reasonably in doing the tough work in front of them. That much was driven home during the thoughtful and honest discussion during the district’s long-range vision and planning process I was a part of last fall.

I wish them the best … and realize we’ll probably be making some of these same tough choices at City Hall before too long.

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Economic Development Forum Set for South Milwaukee PAC

Milwaukee county executive candidates Chris Abele and Jeff Stone are among those appearing at a forum set for Wednesday, March 16, at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center.

The South Shore Forum on Economic Development begins at 6:30 p.m. and includes a roundtable discussion with local leaders and comments from Abele and Stone on key issues like the Hoan Bridge, transit, parks and 794 extension.

Learn more in this story on SouthMilwaukeeNow.com.

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Divide and Conquer: A Losing Strategy for Local Governments, and Unions

Obviously, I’ve made my objections to the Republican plan to kill public unions in Wisconsin pretty clear, and I’ve tried to focus many of my arguments on its potential impact locally.

The decision to separate out police and fire employees from the benefit cuts and restrictions on collective bargaining may have the biggest impact of all.

For starters, exempting these groups seriously weakens the “tools” Gov. Scott Walker said he wants to give local governments to help offset the looming cut in state aid. Since spending on public safety employees is such a large part of our city budget, as it should be, not forcing them to pay more for benefits like everyone else will do little for the city when it comes time to making the hard choices with which we’ll be faced after the legislature is done here.

In other words, in choosing this path, Walker undermined a key point of his own reasoning for the “budget repair plan.”

(Of course, I have many other concerns with the reasoning behind the legislation that I’ve laid out on this blog.)

Also, think of the complexity this adds to the work of our administration, staff and others in negotiating different contracts for different unions, as well as managing completely different work rules and pay and benefits packages for different types of city employees.

Then there is the biggest reason of all to hate this: The “haves vs. have nots” discontent that can be bred when one city worker is working under different rules, and with a different pay and benefit structure, than another. This hurts employee morale and productivity. That in turns impacts city services.

How is that good for anyone?

Of course, this is clearly part of the Republican strategy here. It’s “divide and conquer,” pit one union against another with a clear endgame in mind: killing all public sector unions.

Indeed, police, fire and other public safety unions should not feel safe simply because they were spared the pain this time around. Walker is coming for them next as he continues his assault on workers’ rights and the middle class.

Thankfully, local public safety workers get this, and it’s a big reason why many of their unions did not support Walker in his election bid.

Milwaukee’s did. Many others didn’t, including the parent unions of our local workers. So I am happy to hear that they are standing side by side with their union brothers and sisters in Madison — and back home — as this struggle continues. Keep up the fight.

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Democrats on the Run? More South Milwaukee Perspective on the Senatorial Walkout

Channel 4 stopped by AMF South Park Lanes on Tuesday to talk to area residents about the decision by 14 Democratic state Senators to leave the state in order to avoid a vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” and force a compromise.

Check out the story here. From it:

As 14 Democrats remain in Illinois, their constituents are taking sides. … One thing both sides agree on, they will vote based on how their senator behaved during the budget battle.

That, I believe, we can all agree on.

Also check out this coverage from Fox 6 on South Milwaukee’s State Sen. Chris Larson. His quote:  “This is the worst bill that’s ever been presented in the history of Wisconsin.” I can’t say that for certain, but I can’t remember a worse one in my lifetime.

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South Milwaukee School Unions Ratify Contracts … and Wait

Five unions representing teachers and other employees of the South Milwaukee School District ratified new contracts over the weekend, Superintendent Rita Olson confirmed to me in an email.

Now they wait to see what will happen in Madison as to their future of their pay, benefits and collective bargaining rights.  

From the highlights Dr. Olson provided:

  • All steps given in the 2009-2010 and 2010-11 school years would be honored and individuals would not be required to move backwards to previously held salaries. 
  • The contract would have a 0 percent per cell increase in the first year and a 1.28 percent per cell increase in the second year. 
  • Effective July 1, 2011,  health insurance premiums would be increased to 9 percent or current law, whichever is greater.
  • There is also a cap on health insurance contributions for retirees, and staggered years of service to qualify for retirement health insurance benefits.

This sounds fair and reasonable to me … and a great example of what I continue to say in the debate over the governor’s union-busting plan:  Let local units of government (in this case, the school district) work with their unions to control costs and deal with budget pressures as they see fit.

State government should not force our hands, especially when it comes to what we can and can’t collectively bargain for with our workers.

To the governor and those in the Senate and Assembly: Accept the compromise proposed by Senate Democrats, which gives you the savings you need to help solve the state budget crisis and allows local governments to deal with looming shared revenue cuts.

I thought that’s what this was supposed to be about anyway. Isn’t it?

Of course, I know it’s not. I get it. This is first and foremost about breaking public unions and ending more than 50 years of collective bargaining with barely a debate — and no desire for any level of compromise. It’s about balancing the budget on the back of middle class workers. And it’s wrong.

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Walmart Backs out in the Falls

Update: Here is a Journal Sentinel story on this.

Walmart is no longer interested in building a new store in Menomonee Falls, according to The Business Journal.

Read the story here. From it:

On Jan. 4, the Menomonee Falls Plan Commission unanimously opposed a request by Gatlin to rezone a site at West Lisbon and Pilgrim roads for a 115,000-square-foot Walmart. Fitzgerald said he’s not sure if Gatlin plans to bring the rezoning request back later or if it’s giving up on the proposal, which faced heavy criticism from Menomonee Falls residents. Lisa Nelson, a regional spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said the company is taking a fresh look at the site based on feedback from neighbors and the village.

I don’t really have much of an update on the Walmart proposed locally. We are still awaiting submittal of a formal site plan, and environmental studies of the site on North Chicago Avenue continue.

I will keep you posted.

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Why I’m Pro-Union: Some Context …

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve tried hard to play it straight, providing a comprehensive and unique news source for South Milwaukee without interjecting much opinion.

That is why I launched this blog, and that is what this blog will continue to be. Most of the time.

As you can see, this week has been different. I feel strongly about the issue of protecting union rights, and I feel a responsibility to use this pulpit to make that position known and respond to what I consider unfair and unwarranted attacks on public workers by our governor.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? I attribute some of this to my life experience.

A former union member myself, I am married to a public school teacher. My father is recently retired after a long career as a unionized social worker in the Wisconsin prison system. My stepfather is retired from the U.S. Post Office. My sister is a unionized social services worker in Walworth County. Also, my mother is a nurse at the veterans hospital and, while not a union worker, she benefits from a strong union there as well.

(And I assure you that none of my family members have gotten rich working as public employees. Far from it.)

Additionally, my position on this issue should not be a surprise to my constituents because I was endorsed by two unions in 2009 and made that clear in much of my campaign literature.

So, yes, I side with unions in most cases … and certainly on such a fundamental issue of preserving collective bargaining rights.

With that in mind, my position on unions has led some to surmise that I am as liberal as they come. I am not.

I’d like to think I am like most of America — liberal on some issues, conservative on some issues. I am conservative on many social and law-and-order issues, for instance, while liberal on others like commuter rail (a purely economic development issue for me).

I hate that everyone these days is labeled “liberal” or “conservative,” and it’s assumed they are, or must be, completely left-leaning or right-leaning all of the time and on every issue. That’s certainly not the case with me, nor many of the people I know.

Moreover, I like to think my vision for South Milwaukee is apolitical. That’s why aldermanic races are non-partisan.

Positive ideas for the future of this great city should appeal to liberals, conservatives and everyone in between. And I promise to continue to do my best to deliver them.

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This is Amazing Video …

Check this video out from Wisconsin Eye, courtesy of the Wisconsin State Journal, showing just how eager Republicans were on Friday to strip 50 years of collective bargaining rights away from public workers.

How eager were they? So excited that they decided to move Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill toward final passage without waiting for Democratic lawmakers to even enter the chamber and vote.

Amazing. Unprecedented. Insulting. Disgusting.

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Compromise? Not with this Governor

Not surprisingly, Gov. Scott Walker rejected a compromise that would have delivered the budget savings he was seeking from public employees … showing once and for all that this whole debate is about union busting, and little else.

From the Journal Sentinel story:

“Gov. Walker has repeatedly said that we won’t negotiate the budget and we can’t balance the budget on a hope and a prayer,” Werwie said in the statement. “That remains true. State and local government need the flexibility to manage this and future budget crises. In addition, as government workers pay a modest amount toward their pension and healthcare premium, about half the national average, it is fair to give them the choice of additional savings on their union dues.”

Oh, so now the issue is more than just giving local governments the “flexibility” and “tools” they need to balance their budgets (tools we don’t need). It’s about giving public workers “the choice of additional savings on their union fees.” Sure.

Why can’t the governor  just say that he wants to end unions in Wisconsin? I’d respect him for admitting it.

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A Common Sense, But Unlikely, Compromise …

Public employees, including teachers, will apparently agree to Gov. Scott Walker’s request of benefit givebacks if Walker and legislators agree to take the removal of collective bargaining rights off the table.

That’s according to State Sen. John Erpenbach, a Middleton Democrat, in today’s Journal Sentinel.

This is a fair, common sense compromise that should win the support of lawmakers. Of course, I highly doubt it will.

Walker and Senate and Assembly Republicans are out to bust the unions, plain and simple. What they’re seeking to do is about 10 percent “budget repair” and 90 percent sticking it to the unions. I just wish they would admit it.  At least that way it can be an honest debate.

At this point, both sides are so entrenched that compromise seems a distant dream.

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No Surprise: Honadel Supports Walker’s Plan

I respect South Milwaukee State Rep. Mark Honadel.

I just happen to disagree, strongly, with his position on Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting plan.

Honadel was quoted in a story on WTMJ-TV a few days ago. From it:

Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) could certainly hear the voices from his office, but they are unlikely to change his support for Walker’s budget plan. “They are going to pay a little more for their health care, but by golly, they’re still going to have a pension, unlike 80% of my friends in the private sector who lost their business or their company went belly up,” Honadel said.

Of course, a vote for Walker’s plan is more than just a vote for benefit givebacks (which I’d support). It’s also a vote to put an end to collective bargaining rights for public workers in communities across the state.

Walker told the Journal Sentinel in an interview on Friday that he is simply giving local governments “the tools to control their own budgets” and “flexibility” they need to deal with looming cuts in state aid.

He added: “I know as a local official, collective bargaining time and time again was the thing that stood in the way of local governments and school districts being able to manage their budgets.”

Really? We’ve managed our budget just fine while preserving collective bargaining rights. Now, it’s not been entirely pain free, but we’ve done it.

We did for the past two years with the help of our public safety unions, who, recognizing the financial situation of the city, agreed to no pay increases in 2010 and a 2 percent pay increase in 2011, as well as increased health insurance contributions.

And we’ll do it again in 2012 … hopefully with the partnership of our unions. Unions are not the problem. They can be part of the solution.

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