Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Milwaukee County Government Is Wisconsin's AIG

Think about it: Milwaukee County, with financial/policy connections and implications affecting every taxpayer in Milwaukee, the county, the state - - and even beyond - - is facing debt and other costs that are unsustainable, according to yet another authoritative report - - this time produced by the respected, non-partisan Public Policy Forum of Wisconsin.

The study was paid for by the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and nicely reported upon by Steve Schultze in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, here.

A link to the full study is here.

It concludes that without radical solutions, crisis looms.

Yes, the County's house of cards was built for years under the mutually-inefficient tenures of former Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament, and his allies on the county board, with their calamitous pension and benefit grab that cost them their careers - - and we taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in continuing and unproductive taxation.

But Scott Walker, elected in 2002 to clean things up following Ament's recall and similar ousting of many supervisors, has made things worse through right wing ideologically-driven inaction and an unwillingness to coordinate with state and city government, or the private sector, or frankly anyone except his talk radio buddies.

Leadership and crisis management demands more than an occasional email and phone call to a conservative call-in program that inevitably turns to political posturing against Gov. Jim Doyle.

Look no farther than Walker's foolish resistance to splitting equally with the City of Milwaukee $91.5 million in available federal funds for transit projects.

After years of self-defeating obstinacy by Walker, Mayor Tom Barrett convinced Congress to divvy up the funds, and Walker got $9 million less than what was on the table in Barrett's original 50-50 offer.

Nearly a year ago to the day, I posted a commentary that argued Walker should not be rewarded by the Journal Sentinel with another election endorsement.

And I said the county was teetering towards bankruptcy.

Here we are, a year later, and seven years after Walker's occupancy of the county;s top job - - and ruin is on the horizon.

What is Walker's preoccupation?

Positioning himself for a 2010 gubernatorial run through the Republican Party's conservative base in Waukesha and Ozaukee Counties, and in the Fox Valley and northern Wisconsin, Walker made a big show of turning down federal stimulus funding for his failing county government and struggling constituents.

Yet local leaders, aware of the county's fiscal realities laid out in the Forum report and earlier studies and news stories, are talking about the need for state intervention to keep Milwaukee County afloat.

These days, we call that a bailout.

What will Walker do if the recession and continuing legal and financial county obligations so badly imperil the delivery of services and the county's bond rating that only outside intervention could stave off insolvency?

It's clear that Walker's plan is to escape the crumbling county house of cards by moving on up to the Governor's Mansion.

That would be like putting AIG's former CEO in The White House.


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