Milwaukee County Deserves Good Representation

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors serves a valuable purpose and does the citizens of Milwaukee County, bus riders and non-bus riders alike, a valuable service. Members of the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union know this, which is why we were disappointed to hear that a piece of legislation will be introduced at the State level to all but dismantle the County Board under the guise of reform. State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-15th Assembly/West Allis) is the author of this proposal, similar to one that he introduced as a County Supervisor that failed due to a lack of support.

This proposal is a blatant violation of Milwaukee County’s home rule. We are not saying that the County isn’t facing challenges; to the contrary, we think a strong County Board will be effective in meeting these challenges. If reform is needed, we believe that the dialogue around it needs to happen at the local level and in an open and honest fashion. Unfortunately, this proposal falls short in both of these categories.

The arguments surrounding this proposal are disingenuous and have more to do with spite than Milwaukee County citizens’ best interests in our opinion.
Our responses to the arguments made by advocates of the bill
Argument: The County Board doesn’t do enough work to be a full time body.
Fact: To the contrary, the Milwaukee County Board has a lot of responsibilities. Here are just some of them:

  • Transit
  • Paratransit/TransitPLUS
  • Parks
  • General Mitchell International
  • Courts
  • Mental Health
  • Senior Programs
  • Family Care
  • Sheriff funding
  • County highways
  • Jail
  • House of Correction
  • Medical Examiner’s Office
  • County Ordinances

This is in addition to their core duty of representation. On average, a Milwaukee County Supervisor represents a comparable number of citizens as a member of a the State Assembly.

Average population of a State Assembly District (Wisconsin's population in the 2010 Census was 5,686,986. Wisconsin has 99 Assembly Districts.)57,444
Average population of a Milwaukee County Supervisory District (Milwaukee County's population in the 2010 Census was 947,735. Milwaukee County has 18 Supervisory Districts.)52,651

Argument: 71 out of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have part-time boards.
Fact: While it is true that all of the other Wisconsin Counties have part-time boards, the comparison between these counties is disingenuous. The size and demographics of Milwaukee County make it unique to Wisconsin. Milwaukee County has a significantly larger and more diverse population that any other county in Wisconsin. More people means more services are needed, which means much more is demanded of Milwaukee County Supervisors than, for example, Iron County Supervisors who run a county with a population that is less than 1% of the size of Milwaukee’s.

Argument: Milwaukee County voters endorsed County Board cuts in April 2012.
Fact: Advocates of the bill have been arguing that it is not a violation of local control because of ‘a referendum’ held in April 2012 that went in favor of board cuts and part-time status. This is misleading. There was no county-wide referendum on this issue in April 2012. What did happen was a series of municipal referendums in a dozen suburbs. Each of these suburbs conducted their own referendums. All of these referendums occurred on April 3, on the same ballot as the Republican Presidential Primary and an uncontested Democratic Presidential nomination, resulting in a skewed turnout. What makes the results of this vote even more dubious is the fact that the City of Milwaukee, which accounts for two-thirds of Milwaukee County’s population, was not part of this. With these issues in mind, we feel that the suburban referendums should not be construed as an indicator of widespread support for this bill.

Argument: This bill doesn’t violate home rule because of the referendum it mandates
Fact: A key provision of this bill, cutting 85% of the County Board’s budget and capping it at 0.4% of the tax levy will not go before voters, it will be dictated by the bill. Such a cut would leave almost no money for the operations, meetings, analysis and research of the County Board. The results of the referendum will be largely ceremonial since if it goes in favor of keeping a full time board there will be no money to operate it. There may not even be enough money to run a part-time board.

What does the bill do?
We have serious concerns that the Milwaukee County Board will not be able to perform it’s duties if this bill became law. Here are some of the reasons:

  • It will cut the budget of the board by 85% and arbitrarily cap it at 0.4% of the tax levy.
  • It will cut the pay of County Supervisors by 70%. Supervisors will make $15,000 a year, making it unlikely that anyone who is not independently wealthy will be able to serve as a Supervisor.
  • It will preclude the county from putting any other referendum on the ballot in the April election

With the aforementioned concerns in mind, the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union is proud to stand against this effort to diminish the representation of Milwaukee County citizens. We stand firmly behind the citizens and Supervisors of Milwaukee County.

Could democracy suffer a setback in Milwaukee?

Transit riders should know about an far-reaching proposal to be announced today. A bill will be unveiled today by State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo [brother of American United (Red) Cab magnate Michael Sanfelippo] to drastically curtail the abilities of the County Board of Supervisors.

This bill would cut the budget of the Milwaukee County Board by 85%, cut the pay of supervisors to $15,000/year and reduce the board to a part-time status. This could make our mission of fighting for expanded transit much harder, since the County has the responsibility over routes, fares and the other on-the-ground details of the transit system. A part-time County Board may not have enough time to make these decisions. Getting a hold of your County Supervisor to may become hard as well.

Sanfelippo, a former County Supervisor, brought forth a similar measure at the County level in 2011 that failed to gain enough support. In a move that has been described as a slap in the face to local control and democracy, he will be introducing this bill at the State level today.

We’ll keep you posted on further developments on this bill. Details are expected to be released mid-day today.