Tag Archives: milwaukee county board

Analysis: County board out for revenge against Abele 

Three times in 40 years — in the 1950s, in the ’70s and in the ’90s — the Township and the Borough of Princeton, New Jersey, tried unsuccessfully to merge. The two finally combined into the new Municipality of Princeton a few years ago, allowing them to cut out redundant services and save millions on policing, snow removal and trash pickup.

But the Municipality of Princeton, formed in 2013, is an exception. Consolidations have often been discussed and studied, but the mergers rarely take place. And, based on the politics of the Milwaukee County Executive race, they’re very unlikely to occur in Wisconsin any time soon.

There are 3,069 counties in the country, and many of them provide redundant services in areas such as policing, snow removal and trash pickup. Across the country, advocates of consolidation, including governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Illinois’ Bruce Rauner, both Republicans, say combining county and municipal governments will streamline services and save taxpayers money. But according to the National Association of Counties, cities and counties have only combined 42 times since the 19th century, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

An Illinois report released in December sparked a conversation in that state and in others. It found that living in an area with too many layers of government increases property taxes on residents (the report didn’t break out business taxes) and makes it all but impossible to remember which governmental entity governs what.

The issue is of particular signficance in Wisconsin, which has the most bloated county governments of any state in the nation. In fact 10 percent of all county-level legislators in the United States reside in the state.

While Los Angeles County has five supervisors, Dane County has 37. Milwaukee County has 17 supervisors, compared to 18 in Cook County. And, unlike Cook County, every resident of Milwaukee County also lives within the jurisdiction of a city, town or village government. No part of the county is unincorporated.

But realigning county government is a political hot potato that few leaders in the state appear willing to address. Just consider the backlash against Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele over Act 14, even though it was passed by the Legislature and the voters.  That law placed a binding referendum on the county ballot asking voters if Milwaukee County supervisors should be made part-time as opposed to full-time employees.

More than 70 percent of county voters chose part-time status. Voters also approved eliminating supervisors’ pension and health benefits. The changes brought the county’s pay more in line with others in the state and made money available for services rather than bureaucrats.

Even though Act 14 didn’t merge city and county functions, it still incurred the wrath of county supervisors against Abele. They’ve piled on him in every way possible, waging what’s seemed like a permanent campaign against him in the media.

Former Milwaukee County Supervisor and now state Sen. Chris Larson is running a no-holds-barred campaign to unseat Abele on April 5, and at least some of the board’s supervisors are playing roles in Larson’s effort.

County board chair Theo Lipscomb is part of Larson’s campaign, but the challenger’s top board ally is former county board chair Marina Dimitrijevic, who stepped down from that position last year after realizing that her new part-time status would reduce her salary from $71,412 to $36,076, when it takes effect on April 18.

Dimitrijevic is now executive director of Wisconsin Working Families Party, which is not a party at all. Its emphasis is on an affiliated dark-money PAC that funds challenges against Democrats who are not considered liberal enough. It’s the left-wing version of the tea party: It works to knock out candidates who don’t pass an ideological litmus test or who negotiate compromises with members of the other party, as Abele has done in his efforts to improve Milwaukee’s relationship with the state’s majority Republican leadership.

Working Families has spewed hundreds of thousands of mostly anonymous dollars into Larson’s effort to defeat Abele. What they say about paybacks is true.

On its website, Working Families lists a slate of candidates and vows, “We’re going to work hard to elect these champions for working families into office.”

But only a small handful of those named candidates has received any cash, and one of the group’s recipients, who’s running for school board in Racine, isn’t even listed on the slate. Since January the group has leveled nearly all of its considerable resources against Abele, while all but ignoring everyone else — and completely overlooking right-wing Republicans who face challenges in races where the outcome would make siginicant differences for progressives.

It’s no wonder that insiders see Larson’s race as a grudge match by disgruntled county board members, whose pay dropped from $50,679 to $24,051.

Larson says he’ll restore the county board to its former status and undo what he calls other Abele “power grabs.” But as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out in an editorial this morning, he simply doesn’t have the power to do that.

“It would require changing the minds of Republican legislators who control the Assembly and the Senate,” the Journal Sentinel opined. “Larson was in the Legislature when those changes were approved and he could not affect them. How would he change things as county executive?”

Next in Working Families’ sites is state Sen. Lena Taylor, the only Democrat in the Legislature to vote for Act 14. Working Families is said to be lining up support for state Rep. Mandela Barnes in his likely bid to unseat Taylor.

Faced with this sort of political fallout, counties and cities in Wisconsin will likely continue to operate separately, no matter how much combining them would streamline services or benefit taxpayers.

Information included in this story came from Stateline, a news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts.




Milwaukee County voters to face referendum on minimum-wage hike

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors on June 26 voted to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters whether the state minimum wage should be raised to $10.10.

Supervisor Khalif Rainey proposed the resolution that brought the vote.

The board voted 13-4 to place the “Raise Wisconsin” minimum wage referendum on the ballot, which also will contain the governor’s race, as well as other offices. Along with Rainey, Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, Supervisor Gerry Broderick, and Supervisor Willie Johnson, Jr. were co-sponsors of the resolution.

The vote followed a short press conference at which the supervisors, Raise Wisconsin activists, low-wage workers and others spoke in support of raising the minimum wage.

Devonte Yates, a national leader in the movement of fast food workers and a Milwaukee County resident, said after the vote, “No one can survive on $7.25, and believe me, I have tried.  For over a year, workers like me have been taking to the streets, fighting to win higher wages.  Now, we are going to bring this movement to the ballot box in November.”

Wisconsin’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum. On a 40 hour a week schedule, that means $15,080 per year, or $290 per week. That’s below the federal poverty line for a single parent with a child.

Twenty-two other states have higher minimum wage levels. Massachusetts passed legislation last week setting its state minimum wage to $11 per hour, while Connecticut and Maryland set $10.10 minimum wage levels in the past month. In the Midwest, Michigan and Minnesota already have set higher minimum wage levels and Illinois is expected to follow.

Raise Wisconsin campaign director Peter Rickman, who lives in Milwaukee County, said, “It’s time to raise the wage so that we can raise our economy and raise Wisconsin.  Working people in our state need a raise, and we will win the higher wages necessary to address staggering income inequality, to increase economic opportunity, and to improve living standards.”

Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, added, “For too long, our communities have needed more economic opportunity and security.  Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 is a critical first step to transform the low-wage jobs of today into family-supporting jobs that can build a new middle class for Milwaukee’s future.”

Earlier in the week, Raise Wisconsin activists submitted signatures to qualify similar referenda in the cities of Neenah and Menasha. Previously, Eau Claire and Kenosha counties placed similar referenda on the November ballot.

The Dane County Board was expected to vote on a resolution later on June 26.

Milwaukee County board votes today on living wage ordinance

The Milwaukee County Board is scheduled to vote on a proposed living wage ordinance today (Feb. 6).

An announcement said more than 8,000 employees of private companies that profit from county tax dollars stand to benefit if the board votes “yes” on the ordinance proposed by Supervisor David Bowen of the 10th District.

In late January, the county board’s finance committee approved the ordinance, which would set a minimum “living wage” of 100 percent of the poverty line — $11.33 — for workers employed by companies doing business with the county. The committee vote was 7-2.

The measure would raise wages for employees in several sectors, from home health care to the airport, that have county contracts.

“It’s been a long time coming. Working two full jobs just to get by is no way to live.” said Kevin Walker, a guard working for county-contracted security firm Orion. “No one who works as hard as we do, day in day out, should have to worry about paying their bills because their pay is too low.”

Workers, along with a coalition of 40 organizations, are calling on supervisors to follow the lead set by President Barack Obama who recently announced he would use an executive order to raise the minimum wage for those who work for companies under new federal contracts.

The Milwaukee County Democratic Party has endorsed the living wage ordinance. A statement from the Democrats said, “The proposed Milwaukee County living wage ordinance would boost the local economy by putting more money in the hands of working people who will spend it here, instead of public resources subsidizing large, profitable corporations.”

Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, also backed the county push.

“For-profit corporations are making a killing off our tax dollars while their workers are often forced to rely on public assistance,” she said. “The county board has an opportunity to do the right thing tomorrow. It’s time to pass the living wage!”

The board meeting will take place at 9 a.m. at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

Community leaders gathering to denounce plan to reduce Milwaukee County Board

Community leaders were expected to gather this morning (Jan. 16) to “denounce the outrageous plan to reduce the Milwaukee County Board,” according to a news release.

The announcement said, “Reducing the county board to part time and eliminating essential support staff is another distraction from the real problems facing Milwaukee County and undermines fiscally responsible management of Milwaukee County taxpayers’ resources.”

The community leaders were expected to call on state lawmakers to work with local officials on job creation and economic development and come up with “real solutions, not partisan games, to create family-sustaining jobs in Milwaukee County.”

The press conference was set for 11 a.m. inside the transit center at Lake Drive and Michigan Avenue in Milwaukee.

Scheduled speakers included Jennifer Epps-Addison of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, the Rev. Willie Brisco of Milwaukee Congregations Allied for Hope MICAH, Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces De La Frontera, James Hall of the NAACP, Minister Greg Lewis, Mike Wilder of the African-American Roundtable, Candice Owley of the Wisconsin Federation of Teachers and Nurses and Rosalynn Wolfe of the League of Young Voters.