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$6,650,000,000 Freeway Proposal

by Vince Bushell $6,650,000,000 – Freeway Proposal $1,110,900,000 – County Budget $42,900,000 – Parks Budget $21,940,000 – Net Tax Levy, Parks

Taxes! Everyone’s talking taxes. The Republicans are saying the Democrats are responsible for not freezing taxes. County Executive Scott Walker says in a letter on the Republican Party’s website that he will not raise the property tax levy for 2004. Is this good news or bad? Listen to Walker. Close the County pools to save money. No, open the pools because it is hot and people complained about the loss of service. Ah, that’s leadership. That’s real vision. Well, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to know that folks will be upset about the loss of services. Fire the leadership of the Parks Department because…Well, because Walker needed a scapegoat for a deficit for which he is mostly responsible. He proposed a 2003 budget that did not allow for contingencies that staff cannot predict. But he froze taxes and cut department spending except, interestingly, for the Sheriff’s Department. No major cuts needed there. Why not? Well, Walker says he can’t direct that spending, but maybe he is not in Sheriff David Clarke’s face because Clarke, his fellow Republican in Democratic clothing, needs to get in the news because he is running for Mayor — with, I am sure, the approval of all levels of the Republican Party (need I say Bush?). So you have to have the Sheriff’s Department ready, visible, and fully staffed for grandstanding occasions so Mr. Clarke can be on the television and in the papers. But where is Walker’s vision beyond the tax freeze and partisan politicking? County Executive Walker appears to be a man standing on the edge of Milwaukee County facing west. His gaze is towards Madison (wannabe governor). His constituency is suburban. His heart is in Waukesha (freeway lover). Well, let’s talk taxes and budgets, as Walker would frame the issue. All government is paid for with taxes and fees (local, state, and federal). Look at the numbers at the beginning of this editorial and try to conceive of these amounts as taxes that we pay one way or another. Income, federal and state, sales taxes, gas taxes, property taxes, etc., they are all taxes that we pay. All are important. Scott Walker wants us to spend $6.65 billion tax dollars on freeways in southeastern Wisconsin. Walker supports the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commision’s unfunded plan to expand area freeways. The proposal calls for tearing down 162 homes and 17 businesses in Milwaukee County. This removes properties from the tax base for the City and County of Milwaukee. It encourages urban sprawl. This proposal was overwhelmingly opposed by the Milwaukee Common Council and Mayor John O. Norquist. Gretchen Schuldte, co-chair of Citizens Allied for Sane Highways, says, “Milwaukee County residents will pay more property taxes for freeway-related services — there is just no way around it.” The entire 2003 Milwaukee County budget was $1.1 billion, a goodly sum of tax dollars. The Parks Department budget is a measly $42.9 million of that county budget. And just half of that budet comes from the tax levy. As former Associate Parks Director Larry Kenny, referring to the constant trimming of parks budget for years, said: “Are we the problem? Because we always seem to be the solution.” The Parks Department seems to be first on the chopping block when there are cuts to be made. Does Walker have a cohesive vision for the Parks system? Or is it just a convenient place to grab money from now and then? As Kenny also said, there needs to be a dialogue on the future of the Park system. The Public Policy Forum of Milwaukee published a 41-page study of the Milwaukee County Parks system in 2002. The last line of that study is, ” It is now up to current residents of Milwaukee County to decide the value they place on their parkland.” This is true. We must make clear our wishes for the future and demand that Walker define his vision for the Parks. If we do not agree with his vision, or if, as it seems, he does not have one, we should elect a new leader for Milwaukee County who can see beyond the knee jerk reaction of the “Tax Freeze.” The freeze is a lie if it only applies to property taxes and allows unfettered spending on freeways and prisons with no control on the taxes that support those projects. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 9 – September 2003