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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Walker's Budget Proposal

by capper

Well, Walker has done his trick with smoke and mirrors, and has come out with his 2008 proposed budget. It is pretty much as bad as expected, with some nasty twists, and at least one pleasant surprise. Here are some of the highlights:

SIDENOTE: I seemed to have failed to properly link the pdf's for each of the following sections. To see these for yourself, please go to the above link, and then click on the appropriate department to see Walker's proposal's for that department. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Transportation

As expected, Walker does a royal pooch on the transit system. He cuts routes, cuts back on Paratransit services and increases fees. I could live with the 25 cent raise for regular fares, but to stick it to the elderly and the disabled, who are lucky to have $80 a month in spending money is unforgivable. How could Walker look at these people and say, "Too bad for you that you'll lose your independence and quality of life, but my base needs those few bucks to gas up their Hummers"?

And how is he promoting economic growth in Milwaukee when he is making it harder for people to even catch a bus to get to work? Here's a hint: He's not.

Parks

As mentioned previously, Walker must not like nature, or the thought of people having a public place for people to enjoy it. He wants to abolish 81 positions of experienced parks worker positions, 50 of which are filled, so that he can hire a bunch of seasonal and temporary workers. Most people who use the parks on a regular basis, from picnic enjoyers to softball players have seen how the parks are deteriorating in front of their eyes. That would be fine if the responsibilities were only cutting grass, stacking picnic tables or other mundane tasks, but there is so much more to maintaining the parks and the buildings. Only Walker and his supporters would think that it would be more efficient to have 1.5 seasonal workers without experience or institutional knowledge attempt to do a job rather than have one person who knows what to do and gets the job done. Guess we can get used to more scenes like these.

Sheriff's Office/House of Corrections

This area is a mixed bag. Walker is proposing to maintain the specialized unit that is to patrol the parks, the lakefront and during the off-season, the buses. But I find it hard to praise him for this, as that he was the one that originally defunded these patrols. That is like praising someone for cleaning up the mess that they intentionally caused.

But even if one was prone to praise Walker for doing this, he takes away any benefits by making the county more unsafe. First he wants to close the Community Correctional Center, and place all the inmates currently on Huber, and give them GPS tracking devices. He rationalizes this as being money saving and that criminals don't need to be locked up at night. Ask any cop and they would tell you the time of the highest amount of crime is in the evening and at night, when these prisoners would have been behind bars.

In another matter, he wants to have a private agency transport prisoners around, instead of using deputies, you know, like in real law enforcement officers. Think about it. Who would you want to be in charge of a bus full of inmates going to or from court, going to prison, or on medical appointments, a armed, trained deputy or a rent-a-cop from an agency that gave the lowest bid?

And to top it off, despite public coverage of the dangerous situation that is currently happening at the House of Correction due to overpopulation and understaffing, and the fact that overtime at the HOC is through the roof, Walker wants to abolish 37 correction officer positions.

Mental Health Services

This is the area that Walker might have done the best in, but it still needs a very strong caveat.
Walker commendably wants to initiate a massive increase in housing for the mentally ill, but it is not clear how these new housing units would be staffed. The best I could tell, it would be a boon for developers, but how it would be administered is unknown to me at this time.

In another positive development, Walker is expanding the psychiatric crisis and observation units at the mental health complex. The unit is full and has been full for quite a while. It is so full that emergency detentions are being deferred to other hospitals in the county, which are often not equipped to deal with the severity of an acute psychotic episode.

But, in Walkerworld, every silver lining has a big cloud. Walker also wants to cut funding for community support and alcohol and drug abuse counseling. And he doesn't want to just trim these services, but he is going for the throat by cutting these services by more than 50%. I have news for Mr. Walker, if you want to gut community support services, you are going to need to expand the mental health complex by a whole lot more.

The thing that scares me the most about Walker's budget is that all of these improvements to mental health services, as well as to Disability Services is based on the presumption that Milwaukee County will be able to reap the benefits of Family Care. This is an asinine and inane position to be taking. There is no guarantee that Family Care will be funded, much less how much Milwaukee County would receive if it is fully funded. He also fails to take into consideration that the savings from Family Care is questionable at best, and that it would take at least another one to two years to start effectively start implementing the new model.

And one cannot say that Walker is naive about this. In this morning's MSJ, there is a story about what would happen if the state fails to fully fund this program. Here is the story in its entirety:
State budget impasse threatens services

Cuts in services to people with mental illness and other disabilities in Milwaukee

County will become necessary unless the state Legislature soon cuts a budget deal that preserves increases included in early versions, County Executive Scott Walker said Friday.

He won't agree to adding any county money beyond what he recommended Thursday in his $1.3 billion county budget plan for 2008, Walker said. That could force some painful cuts, he acknowledged.

Walker warned Friday that cuts to social services, as well as to the courts, transit and juvenile corrections, might be needed. In his budget address Thursday, Walker touted some increases he proposed for mental health services without mentioning the potential for other cuts.

His zero-tax-increase budget banks on the county getting about $12.5
million more in state aid next year.

In summary, Walker doesn't give a damn about the poor, the mentally ill, the elderly, or anyone else in Milwaukee County. He only cares about helping to perpetuate the current cycle of the rich getting richer, and his own political aspirations. But even Walker knows that his budget proposal is a steaming pantful when he acknowledges more money will be needed:

Walker said he's used that as a strategy to rein in the board. Whatever he
proposes, the board will try to spend a little bit more, Walker said. He's not
insistent upon "an absolute zero" tax increase, he said

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