Typically, it is not one thing that leads to a tragedy, but rather a series of poor choices that culminate into one catastrophic event.
The tragedy at Milwaukee County’s O’Donnell Park parking structure is an example of how poor choices over the years can lead to a very foreseeable but tragic ending.
Milwaukee County currently has a 0.5-percent sales tax that, at its inception in 1991, was to be used to pay for debt service on capital projects or to pay cash for those capital projects.
In 2002, shortly after being elected County Executive, Scott Walker was successful in changing that county ordinance, enabling him to divert millions in sales tax revenue from the capital budget to the operating budget.
Over the last eight years, more than $112 million in sales tax revenue has been diverted from capital fund to the operating budget. This is similar to the State of Wisconsin using transportation fund dollars for social programs, something that Scott Walker has publicly criticized.
Scott Walker’s diversion of capital dollars is a major reason for the distressed condition of many Milwaukee County’s assets, including county trunk highways and parkway roads.
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s political pandering on taxes has come at an extremely high price in both human life and long-term asset value.
In 2006, during County Executive Walker’s first attempt to run for governor, he shifted $21 million in sales tax revenue from the capital budget to the operating budget. This deception was an effort to mask the need for a property tax increase or painful cuts to social services and parks. At the time, $21 million was the equivalent of an 8-percent increase in the property tax levy.
We constantly hear the political rhetoric that claims we don’t need to make sacrifices, and that we can still have lower taxes and all the services we want. When County Executive Walker has been challenged on this point, he has simply replied that it is a false choice between service cuts or higher taxes. When there is no honest debate of the budget, you have no choices.
In a twist on an old phase, truth is the first casualty of the budget and the first on our way to a tragedy.
Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan, Jr. represents the 16th District, which includes parts of West Allis, Milwaukee and Greenfield.