Marquette Wire

County leaders disagree on need for federal funding

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  • Under the proposed economic stimulus package, over $750 million will be available to state and local governments.
  • County Executive Scott Walker said Milwaukee County doesn't need any of the aid.
  • Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Lee Holloway said it does, and he submitted a aid package to Gov. Doyle last week totaling $426 million.

There's quite a gap between zero and $426 million, yet it is just how far apart the county executive and Board of Supervisors are regarding the proposed federal stimulus package.

House Democrats proposed a $825 billion stimulus package Friday. The package will try to support the troubled economy by giving money to individuals, state and local governments struggling to cope with the downturn, as well as provide incentives for companies to create jobs.

Earlier estimates of the proposal put the final amount, nationwide, at between $750 billion and $800 billion. The deal, if approved, isn't expected to be realized until at least February, and can still grow in total amount.

Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Chairman Lee Holloway is asking Washington for $426 million of the proposed aid, but County Executive Scott Walker said recently the county needs none of that money.

Holloway submitted a "wish list" to Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle Jan. 15, as many local governments across the state have done.

Holloway's plan includes, among other projects, $175.5 million for the Department of Public Works, $111 million for the Milwaukee County Transit System, $96 million for parks and $7.6 million for child support enforcement.

Holloway drew comparisons between this nationwide aid plan and the New Deal.

"The federal stimulus plan to be developed in Washington is similar to the permanent public access projects that were completed more than 70 years ago," he said.

Help is needed to improve the economy, and with this aid package it can be done without raising taxes, he said.

"Rather than force Milwaukee County taxpayers to pay 100 percent of these costs, we have an opportunity for the federal government to possibly cover a large part of these upcoming expenses," Holloway said.

In a statement, Walker said infrastructure projects would only be worth considering if they met three requirements: no match required by local governments, no long-term commitments mandated by the federal government, and no operating or maintenance expenses.

He added that the package, as of now, is only an idea. There is no legislation to administer federal funding in a situation like this.

Walker also said the answer to the economic crisis is putting money in the hands of the people, not the government. He said that while infrastructure projects can take months or even years to take effect, tax cuts have an immediate impact.

"For months, I have called for tax cuts to get this economy going again," he said in the statement.

Holloway criticized the county executive for putting himself over Milwaukee County residents, citing Walker's potential run for governor in 2010 as motive for not asking for any aid.

Candice Owley, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, agreed.

"Scott Walker has once again put his political ambitions above the needs of struggling Milwaukee taxpayers," Owley said. "Our county, like others across the country, is struggling, and to jeopardize Milwaukee's economic recovery to score political points is unjustifiable."

Holloway criticized Walker for allegedly abandoning taxpayers in a time of need.

"An effective Milwaukee County executive should actively seek outside funding to reduce the burden on local property tax payers," Holloway said. "Shouldn't the dollars we send to Washington be returned to our county?"

State Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Hartford) aligned himself with Walker's stance, praising his "courage and veracity" in opposing a popular view in favor of his political ideals.

"(Walker) knows that there is only one way to run a budget and it doesn't include begging, borrowing or stealing," Pridemore said. "It involves setting priorities, cutting wasteful spending and knowing where government ends and the private sector begins."

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