Wednesday, September 26, 2007

PPF Pearls: Paying for more police is a Milwaukee tradition

Mayor Barrett introduced his proposed budget yesterday and sparked a column by Bruce Murphy of Milwaukee Magazine that asks:

But at what point is some mayor going to put down his or her foot and say that we don’t need more officers, we need to more efficiently use the huge force we already have?

Murphy's question is asked in light of the city comptroller's June audit which found Milwaukee has more police per capita than other cities of similar size, nearly twice as many in some cases.

The Forum has been asking this same question for years. During the last mayoral campaign season we issued a series of briefs on vital issues for the city and its next leader: one was focused on the police department.

From our findings:
The City of Milwaukee has long talked of its ability to create efficiencies and eliminate positions. However, in large measure, the Police Department has not been included in attempts to shrink government by cutting positions. Rather, City budgets over the last several years speak of strengthening the efficiency of the City as a whole by eliminating positions while strengthening public safety by adding police positions. As Figure 6 shows, the Police Department has increased its position authority 2.3% since 1994, while the General City Purposes (GCP) budget’s position authority has decreased 8.7%, and the total budget has cut 14.2% of its positions.
In addition, we found that the budgeted salaries for the police department increased by 31% between 1994 and 2003, compared to an inflation rate of 23% during that time period.

Unfortunately, despite the increases in police department staff, Milwaukee's crime rate decreased less between 1992 and 2002 than other similar cities nationally. Washington DC, Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis...they all reduced crime to a greater extent than Milwaukee over that time period. In addition, our crime clearance rate was lower than in other cities.

Mayor Barrett's proposal isn't novel for Milwaukee and the Forum will continue to monitor the police department's budget. But maybe its time to stop doing the same thing while expecting a different result.

NOTE: The other two briefs in the 2003 vital issues series are also relevant to the current budget deliberations. Brief 1 covered property value trends while Brief 3 analyzed city finances. Updated vital issue briefs will be released this winter.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Finding a new revenue stream without getting sick

Denver, Colorado, unlike many cities, still has a public hospital, Denver Health. The hospital has a $432 million annual budget, serves mostly low income and/or uninsured patients, and operates in the does Denver do it?

They found a profit center.

The Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center brings in between $2 and $3 million annually. The center provides poison control services for five states and over 70 manufacturers of potentially dangerous products, such as Clorox. It fields over 220,000 calls a year, preventing doctor visits for about 70% of them. By contracting with other states and companies to provide the service, they make a profit for Denver. By performing the service well, they prevent costly emergency room visits, which benefits just about everyone.

The center has operated for nearly 50 years. Providing contractual services for other jurisdictions, as well as private clients, was not part of the original mission. The evolution of the center was the result of seeing a need, having the foresight to see a part to be played in meeting that need, and creating the internal structure and support necessary to be able to play the part. Without investments in training and state-of-the-art phone and computer systems, the center would not be able to capture the business of the many manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies they serve. Investments have reaped rewards.

In times of budget cuts and property tax levy limits, perhaps a little long-range brainstorming is in order for all local government agencies. What are you doing well now that might meet a need elsewhere or in the private sector? If you had the resources to invest, could you do it even better? Would it then have value to others? If so, could the investment costs be recouped? Could a profit be made?

The city of Denver earns over $2 million a year preventing tragic results for curious kids or confused seniors. Your city might have an untapped mother lode, too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Feeding the Red Dragon

Governor Doyle's trip to China has highlighted Wisconsin's strong export growth to the world's largest country. A recent article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out that the state's growth in exports to China grew at an annual average of 23% over the last decade and jumped 29% just last year. In this time, China has become Wisconsin's third largest trading partner behind Canada and Mexico.

This growth trend shows no sign of abating.

Looking at the most recent export statistics, we see that Wisconsin exports to China accelerated at an even faster clip than usual in 2007. In the first quarter of 2007, $297 million worth of Wisconsin goods were exported to China. This represents an impressive 75% increase in exports over the first quarter of 2006. Although this is just three month's worth of data, Wisconsin moves up from China's 19th largest US state trade partner, to 14th largest. Not bad for a state that ranks 20th in population.

Wisconsin's export increase to China was fueled by a $71 million year-over-year gain in exports from the state's machinery manufacturers - think engines, turbines, mining equipment and other industrial machines.

In other words, if the past decade was good for Wisconsin-China trade, 2007 might be exponential. Maybe Wisconsin manufacturers are beginning to get the picture when it comes to competing with China: stop trying to slay the Red Dragon - feed it exports instead.

So, what does all this mean for the typical Wisconsinite? It means that if you need a job, a good place to look would be to our export related industries. For example, in my neighborhood there is a large manufacturer of mining machines, P&H. I encourage you to take a look at their current job openings on their website. WARNING: It's going to take you awhile to view all of the listed jobs as the list seems to go on forever.

The problem for P&H and other high-end manufacturers has been finding skilled workers to fill current opening. This problem should only worsen as baby-boomers drop out of the workforce over the next twenty years.

With China's continuing hunger for highly-engineered manufactured products showing signs of acceleration, it's logical that we step up efforts to train workers. A strong partnership between local, state and federal government, private foundations and the employer's themselves will be needed to meet our workforce development needs.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nothing earthshaking ever happens here

Milwaukee got a favorable mention of sorts in the September issue of Governing Magazine, which touted our city’s virtues by picking up this Journal Sentinel quote by Mayor Tom Barrett: “We lack the hour-and-a-half commute, and we lack the hurricanes and earthquakes.”

I don’t know how often people – and, more important, businesses – situate themselves in a city because of something it doesn’t have, and it’s certainly not the mayor’s fault that Governing decided to highlight negatives. But surely we can put a more positive spin on Milwaukee’s virtues than the idea that catastrophe rarely strikes. For example, Milwaukee could sell the claim that it is (or was) America’s most progressive city -- where sewer socialism left a legacy of the three most important assets most businesses consider in location decisions: infrastructure, workforce and quality of life.

Ironically, the mayor of Madison announces on his web site that he wants Wisconsin’s capital to be the most progressive city in America. Actually, Milwaukee’s mayor is much better positioned to make that claim. In national magazines, perhaps we should be touting the positive assets that emerged from a progressive tradition just as boldly as we underscore virtue of being disaster free.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Leaving LA for Madison: One CEO's story

Attracting businesses to Wisconsin may be more simple than the conventional wisdom would lead us to believe. I came across this blog post by the CEO of Oompa Toys, a leading online toy store that specializes in European and other high-end, specialty toys.

Milanie Cleere explains her family's and her business' move to Madison from Los Angeles: "In short, we left in search of a better quality of life for our work-a-holic selves and our young children."

She lists several things she misses about California, but concludes:

But the things I miss in Los Angeles are offset by an exponential number of things in our new, adopted home town. Basic things, so basic that now that we have them, we wonder how we did without. Good public schools for the kids, clean air, safe neighborhoods, awesome, friendly people. A fantastic, modern and accessible medical system, very little traffic, kid-friendly everything. That almost mythical Mid-Western work ethic in the Oompa warehouse. Living (and this is going to sound earth-mamma-ish), but living in an area surrounded by lush, rolling green hills and farms. This place feels right, it feels healthy. This place is good for the soul. So, at least for now, goodbye Los Angeles. I’ll visit often, but Madison, WI is now home.

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn't it?

Oompa Toys is not a manufacturer and is not a member of the "knowledge economy," but it is a growing business that's relocation created new jobs in Wisconsin. Because of its focus on quality, its growth can be expected to continue with each mass toy recall.

This is a success story for our state and I'm glad Ms. Cleere is sharing the story on her company's website.

Monday, September 10, 2007

PPF Pearls: Improving school choice

Professor Paul Hill of the University of Washington has called for stronger governmental oversight of school choice programs in the latest issue of Education Week, noting that "...when one school neglects a student or doesn't pay its bills, government agencies crack down on everyone. Schools need oversight that is capable and fair, not negligent."

Prof. Hill also recommends that choice schools "prove themselves on the same tests as other schools," since "early hopes that charter and voucher schools would be so obviously great that no finely calibrated outcomes measured would be needed to prove it have been dashed."

The Forum would agree with those recommendations, as our research over the past 10 years has consistently revealed a need for more accountability in school choice.

Our first study, issued in 1997, interviewed parents in Milwaukee and Cleveland, the first two cities with publicly-funded private school choice, and found they felt they needed more information about their schooling choices. We then conducted two public opinion surveys in Wisconsin and Ohio and found consensus among the general public for having an agency, either independent or governmental, oversee and collect information about choice schools and for requiring schools to provide to the public information such as test scores.

For a comprehensive understanding of the need for greater accountability in publicly-funded school choice, as well as recommended policy options for improving choice programs, read School Choice and the Question of Accountability: The Milwaukee Experience, which resulted from the Forum's many years of research on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

UPDATE: Mike Ford of School Choice Wisconsin sent the following in response to this post. Mike is right that schools participating in the voucher program must now take standardized tests; however, these test scores will be used to study how the choice program performs in the aggregate as compared to MPS. Scores will not be reported on a school-by-school basis.

Your blog post today, "Improving school choice," fails to mention the additional accountability in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) since your book was published. Today, MPCP schools face a rigorous accreditation process, take nationally normed standardized tests as part of a longitudinal study (results of which will be reported to the state Legislative Audit Bureau and publicly released), and must meet a multitude of financial viability requirements. The barriers to enter and stay in the MPCP are significant, as evidenced by the
number of schools removed from and prevented from entering the program.
Reasonable people can have differing opinion on whether this is enough accountability, but I think it would benefit your blog's readers to mention these new requirements.
Thanks for listening,

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

PPF Viewpoint luncheon: Infrastructure


Infrastructure makes the world go round.
Are our roads, bridges, sewers, dams, transit systems, utilities, etc. being ignored, endangering our ability to compete? What needs to happen to make sure southeastern Wisconsin is ready for the 21st century?

John Goetter, chairman, American Society of Civil Engineers-Wisconsin Section
committee on Wisconsin infrastructure report card
Marc Levine, director, UWM Center for Economic Development
W. Martin "Wally" Morics, comptroller, City of Milwaukee

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
11:45 – 1:30
Italian Community Center
Festa Hall
631 East Chicago Street
Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward

Reserve your place now by clicking here

Changes or cancellations will be accepted until Monday, September 24.
No refunds will be given after that date.