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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