Taxpayers could pay for referendums that help Dems, some say


By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is calling on the county board of supervisors to consider rejecting three additional advisory referendums, which could cost taxpayers as much as $120,000.

MONEY WELL SPENT?: The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors could spend up to $160,000 in tax dollars to place four advisory referendum questions on this November’s ballot.

But at least one supervisor expects the left-leaning county board to pass all three resolutions in an attempt to entice more Democratic voters to the polls, thus giving their gubernatorial candidate, Mary Burke, an advantage over Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Supervisor Steve Taylor told Wisconsin Reporter questions on the nonbinding referendum — which is on the November ballot — will likely benefit liberal Milwaukee County board members David Bowen and Marina Dimitrijevic, who are running for different state Assembly seats this fall.

The advisory referendums ask voters if the state should raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, if the Wisconsin Legislature should accept money from the federal government to expand BadgerCare and if state statutes should be changed to allow Milwaukee County to transition its management and administrative functions from an elected county executive to a professional county administrator.

“It’s meant to drive liberals to the polls,” Taylor said. “Obviously, they’re using (the referendums) to show that maybe they’re more blue than their opponents … these people know what kind of crap they’re doing.”

Dane County Supervisor Ronn Ferrell made a similar accusation to Wisconsin Reporter earlier this month, claiming his fellow board members are using an advisory referendum on the minimum wage to help their liberal colleagues in November.

But Marquette University Political Science professor John McAdams doesn’t think any of the referendum questions will have much of an impact on poll numbers.

“The governor’s race is going to be such a high-profile, red meat sort of election, I don’t see how any of these other issue are actually going to make any difference in getting people to turn out,” McAdams told Wisconsin Reporter.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take action on the three referendums when it meets Thursday. The resolutions were approved June 12 by the county’s judiciary, safety and general services committee.

The county board earlier this year passed a different advisory referendum related to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, asking if the constitution should be amended to limit political speech by corporations — and labor unions by extension. That resolution survived a veto by Abele in May.

Each referendum question costs Milwaukee County taxpayers between $25,000 and $40,000, according to fiscal notes prepared by the county’s nonpartisan comptroller’s office.

Altogether, taxpayers could have to shell out up to $160,000 for all four nonbinding referendum questions.

The costs, which come from printing ballots, programming election machines and newspaper advertising, would be taken from the county’s contingency account, the fiscal notes show.

“I know Supervisors have the best intentions when they introduce these resolutions,” Abele, a Democrat, said in an email Tuesday to the county board. “However, spending down our contingency fund on non-essential items when we are looking at a shrinking surplus this year and a predicted structural deficit of $31.9 million in 2015 is not the best use of taxpayer money.”

Instead, Abele suggests that money could be used to serve 13,800 home meals to seniors, collect $2.16 million owed to families by processing 4,500 more child support cases annually or expand the re-entry program for women inmates at the house of correction while establishing a post high school vocational training initiative for 25 inmates a year.

“This board is so out of touch with reality when it comes to our financial issues, long-term,” Taylor said. ‘Every time they give money to a special interest or spend money on a referendum question where we really don’t have any say, essentially, it’s just throwing money down the drain.”

Abele told the board he would be willing to sign resolutions opposing the Citizens United decision and supporting the minimum wage hike and expansion of BadgerCare.

“Like you, I believe an open and fair democracy is key to a strong and sustainable government,” Abele said in the email. “However, I believe there are less costly and more productive ways to move the debate forward.”

Contact Adam Tobias of follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias