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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Walker: Starve the Beast, Starve the Beauty

by folkbum

One good thing that can be said about Scott Walker: Tosa Ranger is that he has a vision of what his job should be. That vision, however, conflicts with what I think most of Milwaukee County would want that job to be.

Today's story about Walker's budget plan sets up the competing visions--again:
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker's proposed 2008 budget underfunds courts by more than $2 million, the county's chief judge said Tuesday.

Circuit Judge Kitty Brennan said she was dismayed by Walker's trims to court operations and charged that he put political considerations ahead of a legal obligation to fund the courts adequately. She commented during an appearance before the County Board's finance committee and in an interview.

"There's no explanation for why the county executive treats the courts with such disrespect," Brennan said. Walker's budget would abolish 18 court staff positions for 2008. [. . .]

Brennan said that Walker's demand for no increase in the property tax levy forces an annual rite of spring in which all county departments are given a target figure in June for their next year's budget requests. Butwhen Walker's version of the budget is introduced in September, the numbers are lowered, she said.

She called the procedure "goofball accounting" and said she was reconsidering her willingness to play along with the practice.

Though she complied with Walker's budget exercise and met with him about court needs, Walker's court clerk cuts were not discussed with her before Walker formally introduced his budget Sept. 27, Brennan told the board's finance committee.

The clerk reduction, if approved by the board, would force her to seek about 11 sheriff's deputies instead, she said. The clerks were authorized several years ago to provide lower-cost staff to manage juries in civil trials, Brennan said.
I elided a bit of the "he said" part of this "he said-she said" mess, but what Brennan hs done here is perfectly encapsulate the problem with Scott Walker: He has a blind obedience to one goal--no tax increases--and will do anything he can, even down to forcing our courts to spend more money on more expensive personnel in order to make his no tax-increase budget.

I think most of us (and, who knows, maybe I'm the crazy one for thinking this) think the County Executive's job is more than just drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and then refusing to cross it even in the face of necessity. There is little question that starving the beast--something like the inordinate pensions still being granted five-plus years into his administration--can provide relief for taxpayers feeling the squeeze. But Walker has moved on to starving the beauty, too: Capper has noted cuts to the parks; Gretchen Schuldt is following cuts to transit. And here we have cuts to, of all things, a cost-saving measure in our County Courthouse (which, as Jim Rowen notes, is in physical disrepair, too).

Nobody likes paying taxes. And, until this state collectively decides that it's going to stop relying primarily on the property tax to fund its schools, cities, and counties, paying taxes will remain acutely painful. But Walker's fix is no fix at all, and sooner or later an even larger bill will come due because of his negligence and idiotic obstinance today. Crumbling infrastructure and an anemic court system are not worth staying on his side of that arbitrary line.

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