Friday, October 31, 2008

MillerCoors leases headquarters space in Milwaukee region

One way of looking at MillerCoors' announcement of its new headquarters location is that the company decided to stay in the Milwaukee region after all. Their new headquarters in the West Loop area of downtown Chicago would place them exactly 1 hour and 4 minutes by high-speed rail from downtown Milwaukee. This is currently less time than it takes to drive from downtown Milwaukee to the M7 region's border.

It seems that MillerCoors executives were cognizant of the potential for a high-speed link when they considered possible Chicago locations. It was reported that one of the key reasons for MillerCoors' choice of 250 S. Wacker was that it is was close to public transportation. No doubt, the public transportation they speak of is the proximity to Union Station which is exactly one block west of the new MillerCoors headquarters. Amtrak and Metra both stop at Union Station.

MillerCoors executives might have also become aware of the Amtrak re-authorization bill that President Bush signed into law on Oct. 15th, 2008, which raises the specter of more federal funding for high-speed rail in the Midwest. Assuming the authorization is fully funded in upcoming appropriations bills, Milwaukee could have a high-speed rail connection into downtown Chicago within five years, placing the two city centers 1 hour and 4 minutes apart. This improvement would shave 25 minutes off current Amtrak service and is considerably faster than the average drive-time of 1 hour and 30 minutes between the two cities.

The reduction in Miller's corporate presence will leave a void in Milwaukee. Though not entirely gone, their philanthropic support and the tertiary economic activity that Miller brought to the community will be missed. We should not, however, write off all secondary economic activity from the MillerCoors relocation. Milwaukee, with its cheap housing, amenity-rich downtown and a pending high-speed rail link, would be positioned to gain more than its fair share of investment over the next few years. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation estimates the development potential that occurs as a result of high-speed rail at between $152-$227 million in increased downtown development. In tough budget times, such an increase in tax base would be welcomed by Milwaukee governments.

A high-speed rail link could also foster housing and employment market equilibrium in the Chicago-Milwaukee mega-region. That's a fancy way of saying that Chicagoans would find it easier to migrate north to take advantage of Milwaukee's cheaper housing and Milwaukeeans would find it easier to migrate south to find more lucrative and more plentiful job opportunities. Recent Public Policy Forum research finds that this migration is already taking place with nearly $400 million in net personal income being claimed by new M7 residents who had lived in the Chicago region the previous year. Conceivably, rail improvements linking the two regions would only serve to encourage more Chicago households to make the move north.

In the end, high-speed rail is far from a panacea. The start-up costs are steep and the operation of such service will likely require ongoing public investments. In fact, an M7 economic renaissance may not even require a high-speed train, but it surely will require the recognition that Chicago is our partner in growing a livable mega-region with a diversity of housing, transportation and employment options.

Rail or no rail, Chicago and Milwaukee are cities that are increasingly seen as two parts of one whole. MillerCoors executives understand this. Do we?

Postscript: If the topic of regional transportation improvements piques your interest, sign up to attend the Public Policy Forum's Luncheon on December 4th as we explore the prospect for regional transit. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What should we expect from a sheriff takeover of Milwaukee County's House of Correction?

The county executive’s 2009 budget proposes merging the Sheriff’s Office and the House of Correction (HOC) under the leadership of Sheriff David Clarke, a proposal recently endorsed by the county board’s Finance Committee. This decision would transfer $49 million in additional funds to the sheriff’s jurisdiction for operation of HOC custodial facilities, the Huber/work-release program, the home detention program, the Community Justice Resource Center, and several other rehabilitative programs. This would result in the sheriff having control over a $141 million budget, of which $121 million is supported by property tax levy – 48% of the total levy allocated countywide. While this is a substantial increase from the sheriff’s 2008 property tax levy allocation of $73.4, the department would gain the burden and responsibility of managing a correctional facility with significant budgetary deficits and in severe need of efficiency and safety reforms.

Autonomy of the Sheriff – Benefit or Drawback?
The House of Correction is currently managed by a superintendent appointed by the county executive. With this setup, the county executive is ultimately responsible. If the merger is included in the 2009 adopted budget, that accountability would transfer to the sheriff. Not only is the sheriff a separately elected constitutional officer whose ultimate accountability is to the voters, but state statutes add significant legal authority to administer his responsibilities without interference from the county executive or county board.

On the one hand, the sheriff’s autonomy allows him to act quickly, explore innovations, ensure safety, and manage his budget without board input. Proponents of the merger argue this autonomy is needed to properly respond to the rapidly changing needs of custodial institutions. However, the decision to merge the two departments places significant authority in the hands of one individual to decide custodial and corrections policy. The county’s legal counsel informed the Finance Committee that the board’s only recourse, if the merger fails to meet expectations, is to reverse the merger and revert to a distinct correctional facility as is currently in place.

Policy Questions
Given the probability of a merger and the liberty of the sheriff, what changes can we expect? Where the sheriff previously dealt mainly with inmates awaiting trial, he would now also manage sentenced inmates. To be successful, the sheriff must determine how best to house/monitor all inmates with the resources allocated to him, while also ensuring that sentences are served as intended by the presiding judges. The following are some of the key policy questions surrounding the merger. Many of these questions, incidentally, apply not only to the current sheriff, but to his successors as well.

  • In the sheriff’s view, what purpose does the House of Correction serve? Will the “correction” of inmate behavior still be a high priority under the sheriff as currently seen at the House of Correction with the various treatment and rehabilitation programs offered? Or will the sheriff’s philosophy focus more on the punitive aspects of incarceration?

  • How will the sheriff manage the work-release center and the home detention program? What steps must be taken to close the Community Correctional Center on January 1st? What process will the sheriff employ to determine eligibility for home detention? Which technologies will be utilized to monitor these inmates? A June 2008 Public Policy Forum report indicated that the work-release population consists mostly of drunken driving offenders. Given that reality and the recent focus on the problem of drunken driving by the Journal Sentinel, what consideration will be given to the risks posed by these offenders when they are on release time or home detention?

  • Could judges change their sentencing decisions based on the decisions of the sheriff? For example, if work release inmates are routinely placed on home detention, judges wanting offenders to be housed in a secure facility may stop giving work-release sentences. Sentencing changes like this could have an economic impact on Milwaukee County.

  • What efficiencies could this merger provide Milwaukee County? For example, could the merger produce flexibility in staff deployment between the jail and the HOC, reducing the pressure to hire more correctional positions?

As a National Institute of Correction audit shows, the House of Correction needs a drastic operational change. There is no question that the sheriff takeover meets the definition of such change, but whether it is ultimately successful will depend on the answers to this challenging set of questions and how well the sheriff manages his enhanced resources.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A troubled outlook for Milwaukee's city and county budgets

While the news of a potential $3 billion deficit for the state’s next biennial budget sent shockwaves throughout the State capitol, perhaps no group of people were shuddering more than county and municipal budget officials. Facing their worst budgets in years and highly dependent upon the generosity of the state, this challenged group of individuals must now face the reality that this year’s nightmares are likely to grow worse.

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.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Clarke Street School program targets achievement gap

A new program at Milwaukee’s Clarke Street School, announced last week, will provide 80 first- and second-graders with extra help through elementary, middle and high school and a guarantee that they will be able to afford college. The I Have a Dream Foundation effort builds on a quarter-century of the foundation’s experience in similar programming in 29 cities. Early intervention tuition assistance programs are unique among education interventions for their combination of early, long-term support and the promise of eventual tuition funding. In some cases, programs similar to the I Have a Dream model have not been successful, revealing some lessons learned along the way. For example:

1. Start early, stay invested

After Minneapolis/St. Paul's Destination 2010 program's disappointing evaluation results, St. Paul’s then-superintendant commented, “You can’t ever start too early. Third grade – what if we had started even earlier?” (2/19/07 Pioneer Press article via LexisNexis).

Starting interventions early makes sense if the goal is to close or prevent the achievement gap; however, maintaining such an investment over the long-term is costly and can be difficult given changing politics and funding. For instance, in 1988 the New York Scholarship and Partnership Program experienced severe cuts and the program's students who had enrolled with promises of tuition help were suddenly out of luck (Coons and Petrick, 1992).

2. Emphasize the right incentive for success

The Twin Cities’ Destination 2010 program shows that it takes much more than some afterschool tutoring and a promise of tuition assistance to bolster struggling students. Five years into the program, tests scores showed that long-term monetary incentives were doing little to change students’ lives in the short-term, with program students performing worse in some testing areas than the comparison group.

The I Have a Dream model to be used by Milwaukee’s Clarke Street School program emphasizes relationships over tuition funding. The program will place a family outreach coordinator in the school to address poverty-related problems and family stability issues, ensuring that students and families receive extensive support. The intent is to make the program more than just a promise of eventual funding at the finish line.

3. Understand student barriers to success

The Twin Cities’ Destination 2010 program’s administrators thought they had a handle on the roots of the achievement gap, until their program enrollment was decimated by high student mobility.

Of the original 450 students who could have joined Destination 2010, 368 signed up. Five years later, only 215 students remained – fewer than half of the initial group. According to the program manager, 80% of those who left the program went "off the radar" (6/3/06 Pioneer Press article via LexisNexis). In addition, students who were initially from seven schools in 2000-01 had fanned out to 71 schools by 2002-03. It was common for many students to attend up to three schools in a single year, an obvious problem when trying to keep up with homework and learning. The program concluded, “We believe that lack of safe and affordable housing is at the heart of the mobility issue.”

The I Have a Dream Foundation model considers the impacts of mobility. The foundation’s website explains that often, students who are sponsored together at the same elementary school will attend different middle and high schools but will gather together for I Have a Dream programming at a local organization. This is important, as Milwaukee is no different from any other low-income, urban district with regard to mobility.

In 2006-07, Clarke Street School had a 13% mobility rate within the school year, with a 61% stability rate. This predicts that, of the 80 first- and second-graders in the new I Have a Dream program, 13% will be at a different school before the year’s end, and 39% will switch schools at the year’s end.

4. Protect program sustainability

As much as possible, it is important to insulate early intervention tuition assistance programs from the ebb and flow of budget politics. The worst case scenario would be to promise tuition to young students who later find no money available. A more common danger is that tight budgets serve to undercut program effectiveness. For instance, in the Twin Cities, school budget cuts resulted in higher teacher turnover, effecting continuity of teachers fluent in the program philosophy. State budgets cuts then reduced the availability of area after-school and tutoring programs – programs that were a key Destination 2010 intervention element to help kids stay on track (9/27/04 Pioneer Press article via LexisNexis). For long-term intervention programs, it is especially important to design a program that can make accomodations when faced with inevitable cuts in other areas.


Among early intervention tuition assistance programs, the I Had a Dream Foundation model has significant merit. However, when examining all types of interventions that target the achievement gap, many studies have suggested that investments in high-quality early childhood education interventions for children under age 5 have the highest long-term payoffs.

For the 80 first and second-grade children at Clarke Street School, this privately-funded program may have a huge impact if the lessons above are heeded. For the rest of the children in the district, and the infants and toddlers who will eventually be MPS students, large scale early intervention will need to take other forms.