State budget burden falls on local officials

Nonprofit speaker explains why that's so

May 25, 2011

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed state budget would reduce aid to local governments, but a nonprofit leader notes that the burden of how to deal with the cuts would fall on Wauwatosa city and school officials.

Jack Norman, research director for Institute for Wisconsin's Future, has been visiting communities around the state to explain the local impacts of the state financial picture. On Tuesday, he spoke at a town hall meeting at the Wauwatosa Public Library organized by Grassroots Tosa.

"It's the state that sets all the rules for local government," Norman said. "It puts local officials in a terrible situation."

The governor is insulated from the brunt of resident anger and hard choices of where to make cuts, he said.

Norman works for a Glendale-based nonprofit that receives funding from the Ford Foundation, which names "strengthening democratic values" as a goal on its website. He said foundation officials are worried that state and local governments are in jeopardy.

The Wauwatosa School District is making up for its shortfall through concessions with its employee unions, district Human Resources Director Daniel Chanen said at the town hall meeting.

"Education is a labor-intensive business," he said. "People make up 80 percent of budget."

Talks with teacher union leadership not only brought a 5.8 contribution to their pensions but a salary freeze and change in health insurance plan that will provide a $4 million savings. Still the district will have to reduce some staff and class sizes will go up by about 1 student per teacher, Chanen said.

City Administrator James Archambo wasn't in attendance at the library meeting, but he provided numbers on the impacts to the city. State aids will likely be decreased by $917,000. If the budget repair bill, which is held up in court, passes the city should find pension contribution savings of $674,000 from the public works, dispatchers and clerk unions employees.

"We're in limbo right now while we wait to see if the budget repair bill goes into effect," said Alderman Dennis McBride, who was in the audience.

The city is attempting to make up the remaining $243,000 deficit with the same concessions from police and fire unions, but negotiations have gone to arbitration.

If the budget repair bill doesn't go into effect or concessions don't come from the protective unions, the frequency and types of city services or the number of employees could be reduced, McBride said.

"The state says 'Here's your deficit. Deal with it,'" the alderman said.

Norman also spent some time trying to put the budget scenario in context and negating some of the governor's justifications.

The claim that Wisconsin is broke is a significant exaggeration, he said. The state faced a bigger budget deficit in 2003 and this year's deficit is not far off from most years.

"It's just not as bad as the governor would have us believe," Norman said.

The deficit comes from a long period of tax cuts by administrations of both political parties, which has decreased revenue coming into the state. In addition, the recession has devastated tax revenues. So far, the federal government has "prevented a full-fledged depression" through its economic stimulus funds, but that source of funding has come to an end, Norman said.

There is another point-of-view - one that Norman doesn't follow - that the state is facing a deficit due to overspending.

Norman made a case that increasing taxes could make up the shortfall.

When inflation is factored in, people are paying less as a percentage of their income to taxes than in past decades, he said.

About 60 people attended the meeting and many had specific questions, but one resident said she was at a loss for how to push for changes.

"I appreciate all the great information, but I feel like I want you to tell me what to do," said Wauwatosa resident Kate Knowlton.

Greg Walz-Chojnacki, a member of Grassroots Tosa, urged attendees to contact their state legislators.

"We have to solve it with political pressure," he said.

While the meeting was supposed to provide a nonpartisan discussion, at least one attendee, who refused to give his name, said the discussion was decidedly "anti-Republican and anti-Walker."He wanted to see a more balanced discussion and didn't like Grassroots Tosa providing postcards and examples of letters residents could send to legislators voicing displeasure with the budget bill.


The following is a look at the impact of school district cuts for the 2011-12 fiscal year:

Brown Deer $1.5 million

Cudahy $2.2 million

Franklin $3.5 million

Glendale-River Hills $800,000

Greendale $2 million

Greenfield $2.5 million

Milwaukee $71 million

Oak Creek-Franklin $4.8 million

Shorewood $1.5 million

Wauwatosa $5 million

West Allis-West Milwaukee $6.8 million

Whitefish Bay $2.4 million


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