In previous blogs on April 18, April 19, and April 26 , bdgrdemocracy has cited inside sources and documented activities regarding the drafting of a “Municipal Financial Governance” bill by lobbyists working for Foley and Lardner. A direct connection exists between these lobbyists from Foley and Lardner and the Greater Milwaukee Committee; as Smart Government Inc. (a registered lobbyist in Wisconsin) works in the same office registered for the Greater Milwaukee Committee. These same lobbyists are listed with the Koch Company Public Lobby LLC in Madison. There is no doubt this legislation will be introduced in the coming weeks. What is in doubt is the content of such a bill. Most speculation swirls around the concept of a Michigan-style “Financial Emergency Manager” who would have the authority to overrule elected officials and take over a city in “financial crisis.” Examination of current Wisconsin municipal law and the actions of the current administration verify what sources have stated – no “martial law” type language is in this bill. It is, in fact unnecessary.
Wisconsin law prohibits municipalities from declaring bankruptcy. An insolvent city would require a state “bail out” if you will, to preserve essential services until the city can right its fiscal situation. If one extrapolates the reality of current statutes to what is already known about this “Municipal Governance Legislation,” the agenda and function of such legislation is clear. Under this new legislation, the state would create “tools” to measure a municipalities “financial wellness.” These would include “fiscal stress tests” and “transparency” language as a means to create standards under which a municipality could be declared “insolvent” or in “financial emergency” by an agency of the state. Authority could be granted under this type of legislation for the state to then “manage” the finances of a municipality, leaving constitutionally elected offices in tact. The state could then privatize through potentially “no-bid” contract services such as sanitation, streets, parks, and even schools (given the nature of the new charter schools and choice legislation). The city would be left only to manage and fund emergency and other essential services, having no ability to raise revenue under property tax restrictions. All authority to govern reverting to a state agency, sourcing out privatized contracts.
If this seems to be an over reaching scenario, consider the sources. The Greater Milwaukee Committee has been proposing this type of scenario for a number of years, and Scott Walker vocally supported it in his time as County Executive. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute published a Milwaukee County 2006 study by George Lightbourn which examined a “bankrupt” Milwaukee County. Pages 9-11 outline the path suggested to a state takeover of County finances, even raising the issue of “overriding democratically elected officials.” Page 14 lists one solution as legislating to change bargaining/mediation laws in Wisconsin. It is important to note that the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute is a known affiliate of the American Legislative Exchange Council, as noted by William Cronon. ALEC is responsible for a great deal of privatizing “model legislation,” and is largely funded by Koch Industries and the Bradley Foundation (Greater Milwaukee Committee chair Mike Grebe is Foundation chair). All that is needed are the legislative “tools” to put this plan into action – goodbye progressive Wisconsin.
The largest obstacle to this plan must remain intact – collective bargaining. The substance of this plan must be made public, and the importance of collective bargaining in stopping it must be of utmost importance – without collective bargaining rights, the state could eliminate a public workforce as a result of privatization. As we work on recall elections, and follow the recount in Waukesha County; keep your eyes on any legislation that aims to change the state’s relationship with municipalities. By all means, collective bargaining rights must be preserved. Lest the age of the “Robber Barons” return – where there is no accountability or oversight of corporate-run state services; and the Kochs of the world have unfettered access to the resources of our state. The alarm is sounding – take heed!