Thursday, October 30, 2008

City Sends SEWPRC, State Government An Important Message

So the Milwaukee Common Council, by a 12-0 vote, has confronted the numerous inequities in the financing and operation of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

These are key components of the resolution that passed the Council Wednesday, according to Common Council records:

1. Directs the Intergovernmental Relations Division to lobby for state legislation changing the composition of a regional planning commission containing a city of the first class such that membership is proportional to county populations.

2. Urges Milwaukee County to withdraw from membership and participation in SEWRPC only if the state legislature does not pass legislation changing SEWRPC’s structure such that membership is proportional to population.

3. Directs the City Clerk to also send copies of this resolution to Milwaukee’s representatives in the state legislature and to the Federal Highway Administration.

Some context:

Point #1 directs the city to lobby for state legislation that would make representation on the seven-county, 21-member commission board proportional by population. Now Milwaukee County gets three of 21 board seats, or 14%. If regional population were used, Milwaukee County, with 47% of the region's population, would get at least ten of the seats - - something that would be fought by the six, non-Milwaukee County counties that now enjoy membership that exceeds their share of the region's population.

Milwaukee County also pays more than one-third of the SEWRPC annual operating budget; As Ald. Willie Wade said during the meeting (as I am told; I did not see or hear the meeting live or taped), this is "classic taxation without representation."

A new urban-focused commission made up of Milwaukee County, and others that might wish to join (Racine, for example), might make sense politically - - an agency that could partner with a downsized, intentionally-exurban and suburban SEWRPC with Milwaukee and other allies removed.

But let's see what happens in the next session if such a proposal and argument moves forward. The ball is in the court of Milwaukee County, SEWRPC, the other counties and the legislature.

Talk about a crowded game...

#2. This follows #1, and looks reasonable, should the legislature not meet Milwaukee's initiative. Smart move by the Common Council.

#3. This is a very important amendment because placing the City of Milwaukee's unanimous council resolution into the ongoing federal highway administration certification review has got to be respected by the reviewers.

Submissions by activists are easier to dismiss, but a unanimous, debated and approved resolution by the governing body of the largest city in the SEWRPC region, and in the entire state, carries real heft.

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