In The News
Hundreds decry Walker job cuts at countyRally underlines need for yes vote on Nov. 4 ballot
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
At dusk on Wednesday October 15, treating the darkening clouds as symbolic of what was happening to Milwaukee County, AFSCME District Council 48 organized a massive rally outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse.
Despite expectations of low attendance on a rainy day, it drew 400 workers and many public officials and community speakers.
On the surface the cheers, whistles and yells attacked County Executive Scott Walker’s newest effort to eliminate more than 300 county jobs. But underneath there was “enough is enough” fury. It was almost a disbelief that after six years of persistent incompetence Walker was sticking with his refusal to help the failing county in favor of privatizing and diminishing services.
Walker, the speakers noted, was trying to cut the workforce before letting county citizens have a voice in an attractive rescue plan on the November 4 ballot.
This is an advisory countywide referendum to push the state legislature to act and then to lead the county to adopt rules that make sure the dedicated money is used as the voters wish. The countywide referendum asks in sum:
"Shall the State of Wisconsin grant Milwaukee County the authority to provide property tax relief of at least $67 million by levying a 1% county sales and use tax to be used to remove the following three items from the property tax levy: parks-recreation-culture, transit and emergency medical services?"
Walker not only opposed putting this on the ballot (he was finally overruled by the county board). He also opposed the county explaining to the public the purpose of a yes vote, even in neutral language approved by county lawyers. Apparently he’ll do anything possible to beat the parks to death so he can privatize them.
Sticking with his disastrous pledge to ignore revenue, he then offered his job cuts combined with higher fees.
His arguments against the sales tax idea are really about the next step in the process, not this one.
Once the voters approve, then it will be important to write the law in such a way that the money will actually go to the services outlined and take the burden off the property tax. Despite Walker’s doubts, this can be done.
Without dedicated relief, Walker will continue to starve the county to death, speakers at the rally warned, forcing citizens to pay more for less quality all in the name of not raising the property tax.
Yet this referendum directly shrinks the property tax.
Walker actually provided more reasons for dedicated sales tax funding when he outlined his budget . It would mightily raise transit fees, golf and marina fees, pool and water park fees – and put parking meters along the lakefront.
Affected would be 339 public service jobs in skilled trades, vehicle maintenance, housekeeping and food services. AFSCME, the county’s largest union, would be most affected, and it has already been decimated by attacks. (The county workforce has shrunk 23% under Walker, but do you really think you’re paying less and getting the same level of service?)
But AFSCME is hardly alone. Walker’s 2009 cuts would also eliminate half of the skilled trades the county has, noted Lyle Balistreri, president of the Milwaukee Construction & Building Trades Council, AFL-CIO.
Lee Holloway, who has announced this will be his final term as county board chairman, called the budget the worst in costs and complications that he has seen in his 16 years on the board.
But it sure gave incentive to backers of the one-penny increase in the sales tax, which would require further state and county approval. Supporters point out that not only does it set funds aside specifically for things like parks and transit, it also would provide the first real relief of the county property tax burden in all the years of Walker’s tenure. It would also be a way to get people who don’t live in Milwaukee County to pay for county services they often use.
A yes vote is easy on this one to continue the discussion and leave open the way to save Milwaukee County’s quality.