The Journal on Walker and Budgeting:

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker's financial mayday message last week about the county budget got everybody's attention. But as the debate is joined, here's something to keep in mind: The county's fiscal problems are so complex and so intertwined with the state, politics and the rising cost of health care that finding solutions is going to require more cooperation than confrontation.

Not surprisingly, Walker's critics quickly seized on his message about doom and gloom to point out that, since he took office in 2002, Walker is basically admitting that he has failed and that his emphasis on not raising the property tax levy has only made things worse by underfunding operations.

Fair enough - but only up to a point. What critics overlook is that county supervisors also are culpable. While criticizing much of Walker's proposal and his timing, two veteran County Board members, Richard Nyklewicz, chairman of the Finance Committee, and Roger Quindel, former chairman of the Personnel Committee, readily concede that supervisors must share the blame and that some of the problems predate Walker. You can add legislators and the governor to that list for not providing more aid to the county to fund services the state mandates.

Although Walker, who is running for governor, has been too unyielding in trying to hold the line on taxes, he correctly points out that the county only has so much wiggle room under state law anyway; it can raise its 2007 levy by about $7 million, far short of what it will need.

But Walker has been too quick in the past to turn to the same punching bags: his predecessor, F. Thomas Ament, and the pension scandal. Quindel says that only 10% of the county's structural deficit is due to pension enhancements and that supervisors have taken steps to eliminate much of those enhancements for current employees.

Walker has proposed a change in state law to void parts of contracts with labor unions and has appealed for more aid from the state to ward off bankruptcy.

While the county certainly has problems, Walker has overdramatized these, and his remedies are too adversarial, especially with unions, which have made many concessions and have bargained in good faith.

Walker's timing here couldn't have been worse. Quindel notes that the county Friday gave its largest union its final binding offer.

Good point. Here's another. In rightly appealing to the state for more help to pay for state-mandated services, Walker has painted himself into a political corner since he strongly supports a constitutional amendment to control state and local spending.

Walker told us he is only asking for an end to state-mandated county spending, not for new state money or taxes. Sorry, but that explanation rings hollow given demands on the state's own budget.

And, given the county's problems, Walker should reconsider his opposition to a proposed advisory referendum for a 0.25% sales tax to support county parks.

Rather than risking long legal battles to force employees and retirees to give back health benefits won in collective bargaining, Walker should focus more attention on a core problem - controlling regional health care costs, which are way above the national average, as shown by a General Accountability Office report last year. About 52% of the county levy now goes for health care, compared with 29% six years ago.

At the same time, however, the county should not give up on efforts to convince employees and retirees to make more concessions to stave off bankruptcy.

A good way to start would be for Walker and the county to develop a long-range plan for unfunded pension liabilities, starting with a comprehensive actuarial analysis of the pension. This should be a priority.

In my opinion, Walker is the poster child for hypocrite. He wants to fully fund the county Govt that he is in charge of, yet he supports TABOR and lower taxes over any other policy.

We need to stop talking only about taxes and speak of services as well. A balance needs to be achieved.

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