Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Park It

Rob Henken, of the Public Policy Forum, has an op-ed about the "reality" facing our parks. He considers the maintenance and infrastructure needs, the cost of retiree benefits and county-wide administrative overhead, public/private partnership options, and closing certain amenities.

"What is clear is that the county's property tax resources no longer have the capacity to adequately support non-mandated services, meaning big decisions about the future of its beloved parks and cultural facilities are required. While other pressing issues facing our next county executive may have greater legal and financial implications, perhaps no other issue will attract greater passion from county residents," writes Henken.

This is a microcosm of the larger economic question we're facing. And, as usual, we're getting the cut, cut, cut answer. Our parks, like our wages, health care and benefits, could gain from increased taxes on the rich. Making the modern-day robber barons pay their fair share would solve federal, state, county, and local fiscal problems. But, for some sad reason (especially in a supposed representative democracy), the only option is more sacrifice from workers and citizens having to get by with and accept less.

The past few weeks in Madison should have shown us there is strength in numbers. In a democracy, we can have, and can afford, a good quality of life with the amenities we all enjoy. To paraphrase a another recent Journal Sentinel op-ed, You Heard It Here First: Tax The Rich To Solve The Park Crisis.

The idea that we are broke, that we can no longer have parks, that we can no longer have professional teachers and good schools, etc. completely mischaracterizes the situation and feeds into the conservatives' framing of this issue.

The idea that we must choose between Miller Park or good county parks, between a convention center or good learning centers (schools), or between any of the other false choices we are constantly fed is a BIG LIE! (And, if we did have to choose, schools and parks are more important to our quality of life than a stadium and a convention center.)

Milwaukee spends $59 per resident on our county park system. The data for 76 cities, as gathered by the Trust for Public Land, shows the average park-spending per city is $102. Our park acres as a percent of land area is 9.7%, the average is 10%. Whether it's baseball diamonds, basketball courts, community gardens, golf courses, ice skating rinks, dog parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, skate parks, swimmings pools, or tennis courts, Milwaukee County is near or below the average per resident among all cities studied. We still have a good park system, but it's barely hanging on. We don't spend that much nor do we have a bloated system as is, yet we should spend less?

Just because we have a bad economy (not a spending problem, and primarily caused by Wall Street) doesn't mean we should start selling off and/or dismissing public goods. The economic downturn is the culprit behind our budgetary woes. We are not spending too much. As David Cay Johnston states, "We have a revenue problem."

We can either roll over and allow corporate behemoths to ruin our public services and amenities, by usurping state and local revenues into their private accounts through subsidies, tax cuts, and other giveaways. Or, we can demand they pay they fair share to fund the goods and services that make all our lives better.

Even in the age of Citizens United, the Wisconsin 14 have shown us anything is possible. For those pushing austerity and cuts, I say, "Park it!"

For Further Reading:

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