What now, Milwaukee?

Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year state budget plan will have significant impact on every man, woman and child in Wisconsin.

It will affect the roads you drive on. It will affect the schools your children attend. It will affect the colleges your future employees are studying in. It will affect the services you receive from your city and county. It will affect the buses your employees or perhaps your customers ride on. It will affect the charities that assist your community.

As Walker prepares to close a projected $3.6 billion state deficit by cutting annual local shared revenues by $1 billion, a new normal will be felt by city and county governments, school districts and social agencies.

Thousands of teachers, nurses, municipal workers, police officers, firefighters and others will feel the impact directly, as their jobs will be eliminated.

Most of the public employees who manage to keep their jobs will be required to pay 5.8 percent of their salaries toward their pensions and cover 12.6 percent of the cost of their health insurance.

Some schools and libraries will be closed. Class sizes will be increased. Many services will be streamlined, consolidated or eliminated. Public bus routes will be altered or eliminated.

“While families across this state were focused on making ends meet, the state government continued to grow well beyond our taxpayers’ ability to pay,” Walker said. “But the time has come for us to make the tough choices necessary to put our state back on the path to prosperity.”

Walker’s proposed 2011-13 state budget calls for a $500 million cut to Medicaid, which serves roughly one in five Wisconsin residents, including a third of all children. Medicaid includes BadgerCare Plus, Family Care, SeniorCare and other services. FamilyCare is a long-term care program at the county level for adults with disabilities and frail elderly.

“Medicaid costs continue to outstrip growth in general fund revenues,” Walker said in his budget address. “While maintaining services for our most vulnerable, we must also refocus those services and find efficiencies where possible.”

Municipalities and counties will need to consider every service they provide for elimination, consolidation or privatization, ranging from road repairs, salting and plowing to garbage and recycling collection, mental health services, libraries, public health programs and immunizations, restaurant inspections, boulevard planning, police service to schools, drinking water quality control and animal control.

Police stations and firehouses could be closed.

In many cases, higher taxes will be replaced by higher user fees. Expect to pay fees for many routine municipal and educational services.

“Everything will be looked at. If things proceed (with Walker’s budget), we’d be negligent not to look at everything,” said Pat Curley, chief of staff for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Curley noted that Milwaukee city, county and suburban snow plows often meet at various boundaries. Now is the time to ponder consolidation and joint collaboration for such services, Curley said.

“You have to get started. We all recognize it. We all know it’s goofy. If there is a time to address the inefficiency of that, this is the time to do it, clearly,” Curley said.

In sum, local governments will be forced to do more with less. That’s a reality Wisconsin’s businesses and households have been living for three years now.

This special report examines the impact of the state’s budget crisis on southeastern Wisconsin’s businesses, governments, nonprofits and its people. It also examines how Milwaukee’s corporate, educational and civic leaders plan to move the region forward with fewer resources.

Editor’s note: This report was compiled by BizTimes managing editor Andrew Weiland and reporters Eric Decker and Alysha Schertz.

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