Throughout the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, then-candidate County Executive Scott Walker spoke of the need to rein in and reform the unsustainable costs of public employee benefits. The key components of this platform, along with a pledge to reduce government spending and balance the state budget, resonated with a majority of Wisconsin residents, who then elected Scott Walker governor of Wisconsin.
Governor Walker’s proposal would fix an estimated $137 million budget shortfall by the end of the state’s fiscal year through modest changes in the cost-sharing for healthcare and pension benefits for state employees. Facing our own long-term budget deficit, Milwaukee County has been attempting to achieve similar benefit changes in prolonged negotiations with its collective bargaining units.
While the nation’s focus is currently on Madison, the debate will soon move to local governments, including Milwaukee County. To help balance the budget and eliminate a $3.6 billion biennial budget deficit, the Governor has indicated that substantial cuts in state aids to local municipalities, counties and school boards are required. The Governor has proposed modifications to Wisconsin laws that will give local governments such as Milwaukee County the tools it needs to address revenue shortfalls without layoffs or raising taxes.
Without the state law changes proposed by Governor Walker, Milwaukee County will be unlikely to achieve the savings necessary to offset the reduction of state aid, leaving massive tax increases, layoffs or severe cuts in County services as the only options to balance the County’s budget.
As local government elected officials, we applaud and appreciate Governor Walker’s leadership during these difficult financial times. Rather than simply passing the pain onto counties, municipalities and schools, the Governor has offered the means to properly manage local budgets in response to reduced state aid.
Joseph Rice and Joe Sanfelippo are Milwaukee County supervisors.