County executive candidates spar over tax cuts, increases

Milwaukee County Executive candidates David Riemer and incumbent Scott Walker were quick to throw political punches in their first post-primary debate Thursday.

Riemer labeled Walker a "tax and spend Republican" and charged that he provided only "symbolic leadership," destroying county parks and upping service fees since he was elected county executive in an April 2002 special election.

Walker highlighted the county's unaltered tax levy since he has been in office and compared it to levies in nearby counties, which have been increased.

The debate, part of Insight 2004 with Charlie Sykes and broadcast on WTMJ-AM 620 radio, was held days after Walker won the primary election with 59 percent of the vote to Riemer's 36 percent. Joe Klein's campaign ended when he received only 5 percent of the vote.

Riemer, the state's former budget director, pledged to open county swimming pools, restore cut bus routes and lower fares, lower property taxes and drive down health care costs if elected county executive.

Walker, on the other hand, said taxes will be lower in 2004 and the tax levy will decrease each year until at least 2008 if he is reelected. He also pledged to bring jobs into Milwaukee.

"Economically, we need to send the message that people can bring jobs here," he said.

He said he will look into bringing health care and technology jobs into the city, specifically to the former Park East highway area.

Walker mentioned strengthening higher educational opportunities in order to reduce the brain drain in the county.

The candidates blamed each other for various tax increases.

"You raised dozens of fees," Riemer said to Walker.

He cited an increase in fees for marriage licenses, transportation for disabled people and a concurrent decrease in the fee to park 50-foot yachts on Lake Michigan.

Riemer brought out Walker's votes for an increase in sales taxes for Miller Park and a city convention center while the incumbent held a seat in the state Assembly.

Walker, on the other hand, blamed Riemer for signing off on a 26.4 percent increase in the tax levy while he was the state budget director.

Riemer blamed the increase on the state representatives of the time — namely, Walker — who were not able to handle the budget and he "had to go in there and clean it up." Riemer charged that legislators were trying to spend more money than they had collected in revenue.

Walker said former state Sen. Chuck Chvala is to blame for vetoing measures to control state spending.

Riemer tried to distinguish himself as a Democrat and Walker a Republican in the county executive race, which is non-partisan. He said he is against concealed weapons laws while Walker once sponsored a concealed carry bill in the state Assembly.

The only thing the candidates seemed to agree on during the debate is light rail transportation service, which has been proposed in the county. Neither is for developing light rail service.