Tuesday, August 16, 2016

State and regional governments keep Milwaukee, minorities isolated, part II

On Monday I posted some lesser known facts and history about race, economic justice and inequitable use of regional and state governmental power that have kept the City of Milwaukee poorer than its wealthier and whiter neighbors for more than 50 years.

A technical glitch on the blog duplicated the post, so what I want to do is put the text in one place, below, with a few updates.

*  I added a link to the most recent budget of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - the seven-county, state-created agency located in Western Waukesha County that makes recommendations for the region in such crucial development-related areas as land use, transportation, water distribution and others - - but on which the City of Milwaukee has no designated seat, no authority to name a commissioner and thus relatively less influence on commission spending and policy-making than its whiter, more affluent, more suburban and still-rural neighbors. 

The six other counties outside of Milwaukee all have three commission seats, fewer minority residents and residents total than both the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County - - yet while Milwaukee County with most of its residents living in the minority-majority city pays the largest annual share of the agency's budget.

Because City of Milwaukee residents are contributing roughly half of the Milwaukee County tax collections, I argue that city residents are taxed for SEWRPC purposes without representation.

*  I am also adding here a link to SEWRPC's most recent report on affirmative action, hiring and staffing, and note that, as it has in the past, the agency says in these reports that it continues to struggle attracting minorities to its most-senior positions.

And SEWRPC candidly includes this ironic, telling, all-encompassing reality about jobs and the Milwaukee-centered region which Scott Walker's anti-urban, anti-transit policies have made worse: 
Transit services have -- at least temporarily -- been terminated by Waukesha County to the Commission’s primary work place in the Waukesha area. Today 38 percent of Commission employees commute from Milwaukee County residences. The Commission has long recommended in its plans, and advocates strongly for improved transit service to job centers throughout the Region. The Commission has identified the severe transit funding problems in the Region, and the need for dedicated funding. Implementation of the Commission’s regional transit plans should provide reasonable transit access to the Commission’s present primary office location.
Echoing its 2012 affirmative action report:

In its 2011-2012 Affirmative action report - - click on the pdf at the bottom of this SEWRPC page - - SEWRPC says:
Transit services have -- at least temporarily -- been terminated by Waukesha County to the Commission’s primary work place in the Waukesha area.
Four-to-five years is "temporarily"?

The original post from Monday:
Media and others interpreting civil unrest in Milwaukee might want to dig deeper into a few issues:

*  Cities are creatures of the state in Wisconsin, and during the Scott Walker era, Milwaukee has lost state-supplied revenue - - the program dates back decades as a substitute for local income tax collections - - and also lost the ability to expand its budget above state-mandated limits.

*  The "hypersegregation" label applied to Milwaukee is regional, tolerated for decades.

Many of these issues and impacts have been studied and reported to death, but the state and region resist meaningful change.

*  The state put a permanent limitation on Milwaukee's growth, tax base, job market and citizen opportunities when it froze the city's borders in 1955 through the so-called anti-annexation "Oak Creek Law."

As a result, suburbanization around Milwaukee boomed, and with it also a proliferation of discriminatory housing local ordinances which, though ruled illegal years later, remain camouflaged through legal substitutes mandating expensive home construction site and interior dimensions (in Chenequa, in Waukesha County, for example) or Mequon's decades-long five-acre lot minimum, now eased, that effectively kept residency upper-income and predominately white in that Ozaukee County community.

No other Wisconsin municipality has had its borders - - and its future - - politicized, influenced and fixed by a special state law: 
Through the use of restrictive covenants, exclusionary zoning, and aggressive police patrols, these suburbs have over the years tried to keep the City of Milwaukee, as a real and symbolic embodiment of the “urban,” out of their self-styled sanctuaries. These policies, in turn, have had the effect of concentrating the poor, people of color, single moms, and unemployed young men in the City of Milwaukee itself. The new suburbs form what [historian John] Gurda calls the “iron ring” around the City of Milwaukee, and there is no obvious way to break through the ring.
Interestingly enough, the new suburbs are the very communities in which support for Governor Walker is strongest. 
*  The state created a seven-county Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission in 1960 made up of Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Walworth, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha Counties.

[Updated] SEWRPC, with staff and headquarters in Western Waukesha County that is far from Milwaukee, literally and philosophically - - and not even on a transit line - - prepares influential studies, provides technical assistance to governmental agencies in matters such as housing, water and transportation, and has the power to approve certain highway projects paid for with federal funds.

All effect job creation, access, distribution, and economic opportunity.

The commission's makeup, focus and output is heavily suburban and exurban.

Each of the counties has three commission seats. For most of its existence, the commission had no African-American members.

Most of the region has higher incomes and housing values than does Milwaukee.

Commissioner appointments are controlled by the Governor and the counties.

The City of Milwaukee, with a population larger than all the non-Milwaukee counties, and by far the largest number of transit dependent, minority and low-income residents in the region and state, has no designated commission seat or appointing authority.

Yet the commission's budget comes 100% from taxes, so the city of Milwaukee and its residents are taxed without representation for commission purposes.

More financial unfairness: Milwaukee County, which has the same number - - three - - of commissioners as do the other six counties, including far smaller and still rural Walworth, for example, picks up 33% of the counties' annual tax contributions to SEWRPC, according to the agency's most recent, and relatively stable budget.

I noted SEWRPC's disconnect from minorities in this blog's first month in February, 2007, and have covered its activities repeatedly in the intervening years.

The Wisconsin ACLU, from its Milwaukee offices, has rightly told the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission that the agency is moving far too slowly with the formation of a task force on environmental justice.

SEWRPC has had months to get this outreach effort underway but has not made task force appointments and is not aggressively getting input on appointees from communities to whom this long-overdue outreach effort is aimed, the ACLU says in its new release.

With its laissez-faire approach, SEWRPC is skating on thin ice with watchdog groups like the ACLU, and federal regulators who could use federal civil rights to light a fire under SEWRPC, as the ACLU further reminds SEWRPC by letter.

The Pewaukee-based agency already has minimal credibilty with large sections of the region because of its pro-suburban history, and giving the task force formation a low priority only reinforces SEWRPC's negative image.

At this very moment, SEWRPC and other entities are discussing major changes to transit and water management policies that will guide development in the region for generations, and will therefore profoundly impact low-income residents.

Yet those residents are regularly shut out of many of these policy discussions - - a problem the environmental justice task force could help remedy.

If SEWRPC had a comprehensive planning strategy and a more inclusive mentality, it wouldn't need an environmental justice task force in the first place: its commissioners and multiple committees would have integrated genuine environmental justice principles and goals into all their work as a matter of routine.

For example, if environmental justice were an important thread in SEWRPC operations, its last housing plan for our heavily-segregated region wouldn't have been done in 1975, and SEWRPC would have been a champion for transit expansion, not $6.6 billion in new, suburb-serving freeways lanes.

It's a disgrace that community groups representing low-income and minority populations had to demand a task force in the first place, and reprehensible that SEWRPC continues to drag its feet on its implementation.

In recent years, the commission did establish a task force on economic justice, but only after initial resistance from the top and successful pressure from citizen and civil rights organizations.

The same kind of pressure recently led to federal civil rights litigation which forced the state to add a relative pittance - - about $13 million dollars worth of temporary transit services - - to a billion-dollar regional highway expansion at Milwaukee's western border with more affluent, faster-growing Waukesha County which the state is building at the recommendation of the commission.

More billions have been spent and will be added in future years to the same freeway expansion principally serving white, affluent areas in the region without  transit extensions.

*  Waukesha County, GOP state legislators, and then-GOP Gov.Tommy Thompson blocked light rail connections between the City of Milwaukee and Waukesha County then went further and blocked light rail development within the City of Milwaukee.

A summary story about light rail, regional politics and disparities and SEWRPC, here.

Some years later, Waukesha County officials pulled the plug on a jointly-funded bus line - - Route 9.

The line had connected the two counties, but its cancellation sent an anti-urban message regionally and deprived Milwaukee residents without access to a car - - one documented tally some years ago out the figure at 87,000, or about 15% of the total city population - - of one option for reasonable access to out-county jobs who.

*  As has been par for the course, the state just helped win for the City of Waukesha a jobs-and-growth guaranteeing diversion of water from Lake Michigan.

Let's take a bit of a closer look at how all this works.

SEWRPC had already recommended Lake Michigan water transfers to communities, including Waukesha, before the Great Lakes states accepted the city's diversion application first green-lighted by and then strongly backed across the Great Lakes region by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Matt Moroney, an attorney representing regional builders, was a forceful member on the SEWRPC's water advisory committee. 

That body endorsed Lake Michigan diversions beyond the Great Lakes basin and the SEWRPC commission formally adopted those recommendations.

Moroney became the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources after Scott Walker won the governorship in November, 2010, and now serves as a special assistant on Walker's staff. 

No Milwaukee individual has had that kind of suburban-development enabling impact on local, regional and state development.

State and regional policies have for decades kept Milwaukee and its residents land-locked, economically stunted, disconnected from neighboring wealthier, whiter areas and thus segregated - - regionally - - by race and economic status.

*  Add in Walker's failed job-creation policies, his scandal-ridden and failed job-creation agency, his refusal to allow the minimum wage to rise above the poverty-enforcing level of $7.25/hr. and his deletion of tens of thousands of poor people from food stamp roles - - summary posting, here - - what do you think the ripple effects have been and will continue to be in the Wisconsin city with the largest number of low-income and unemployed people?

This blog has covered these issues for nearly ten years. There are hundreds of posts with supporting documentation. Use the index box at the upper left.

if we're going to have a discussion about segregation, let's look at the bigger picture.


Anonymous said...

on the AA plan.... can you ask them to disaggregate what "nonwhite" means? ie, are they hiring any African-Americans or Latinos?

James Rowen said...

There are charts in the report which break out minorities by African-American, Asian, white, female, male, etc. Read the entire report. It's pretty short.

my5cents said...

I came across this story today about WEDC. If true, imagine if that money had actually gone to the area it was supposed to go to and how much it would have helped those families to have good paying dependable jobs. If only the high speed train had not been thrown away.