Each year, the Public Policy Forum releases an analysis of Milwaukee County's proposed budget. This year's brief can be found here.
The single greatest opportunity for the county's future fiscal solvency is the strategic planning process presented in the 2008 recommended budget. Strategic planning is about prioritizing. In order to be successful, county officials will need to prioritize spending. In other words, they will have to decide what the county can afford and how to pay for it.
The county is significantly hamstrung by unfunded and underfunded state mandates. This is evident throughout the budget, although the county seems to be at a loss as to what to do about it. County officials have been lobbying the state for years to fund its mandates, without results. In fact, the costs to the county of these mandates continue to rise. In response, cuts have been made to administrative spending and to non-mandated services. This cannot continue; in this budget alone, bus hours are cut more than 9%, and parks maintenance continues to be underfunded.
The reality is that the county is an arm of the state and it has to provide the services required by the state. However, the county should not have to go bankrupt to provide these services. Without a substantial increase in revenues, this may require giving up some non-mandated services. This reality needs to be the starting point of the county's strategic planning process.