The Public Policy Forum recently released its analyses of the 2009 Milwaukee County and City of Milwaukee budgets, and a common theme is the devastating impact of stagnant state aids on the structural condition of each. Other points of commonality are the growing employee compensation costs faced by both governments, which the city budget document deems “unsustainable”; and growing debt service costs, which are forcing both to limit new debt issuance despite huge backlogs in infrastructure maintenance and repair.
Our analyses also found several differences between the two, both in overall fiscal condition and approach. For example, the city began its 2009 budget season with a $45 million tax stabilization fund and an over-funded pension fund. The county, in contrast, possessed only a $3 million debt service reserve and a $400 million unfunded pension liability.
Also, while the city has quantified and openly discussed its structural imbalance and articulated some strategies for addressing it, county leaders remain locked in ideological disputes over privatization and taxes and seem unable to agree on even the nature and depth of their fiscal problems.
A note of warning: our analyses make for some pretty depressing reading. Even more depressing, however, would be inattention by policymakers to their findings.