Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Streetcars, Safety and Hucksters

Constituents of City of Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski may want to read his recent bloviating regarding the Mayor’s 2018 City of Milwaukee Budget.

He’s wholeheartedly opposed to the City’s streetcar project. Yet, and this shows his desperation to develop a coherent rebuttal, Zielinski is presenting this as a choice between either funding the streetcar project or eliminating some police and fire fighter positions.

Because that’s the only two choices we have as a City – streetcars or safety? More appropriately, it’s a safe political road to getting Zielinski some attention – playing off the misplaced fears of citizens to continually funnel more and more money to police and militaristic options. 

For some context, Wisconsin has spent over a billion dollars on new stadiums for the Brewers, Bucks and Packers in the last decade. Private sport structures whose benefits go to their private owners. The State and the City has also doled out millions in subsidies to businesses for years and years.

But here comes Zielinski with numerous press releases condemning the Mayor and the streetcar.

Where were all of Zielinksi’s press releases condemning the millions of dollars in giveaways to stadiums, developers and other corporate interests?

Milwaukee is spending $128 million on a streetcar to be used by residents, tourists and businesses.

How is this a waste?

Every other major city has some sort of streetcar, light rail or similar. So, it seems more like Milwaukee is behind the curve as far as what businesses and workers want in amenities and infrastructure. Local infrastructure is what creates jobs and draws businesses, residents and tourists.

As an alderman supposedly so concerned with constituents’ tax dollars being spent efficiently, how much of the entire Milwaukee budget does Mr. Zielinksi want going to police and fire?

As Bruce Murphy highlighted in a recent article, “In 2004, when Barrett started as mayor, the police and fire budget represented 62.7 percent of the city’s combined shared revenue and property tax levy; by 2017 the police and fire budget accounted for 87.7 percent. Increasingly, it’s become difficult for the city to pay for anything but police and fire services…Today, police and fire workers account for 77 percent of all taxpayer contributions to city employee pensions.”

So, Mr. Zielinski, how much more of the City of Milwaukee budget should go to just police officers and fire fighters?

How much more do we need to spend on public safety Mr. Zielinksi? How many police officers does Milwaukee need? Let’s see the numbers. Let’s see your analysis. How are you arriving at your conclusions?

Milwaukee has 42 police employees for every 10,000 people in the City of Milwaukee. Ranking Milwaukee 14th in the U.S. The average in the U.S. for cities with a population over 500,000 is 24 police employees for every 10,000 people. The population of the City of Milwaukee ranks 30th among the 100 largest cities in America.

Milwaukee already has almost twice as many police employees as other similar-sized cities.

To pretend to be concerned about the budget or to present this as acting fiscally responsible is deceitful. Just like when federal politicians complain about the federal budget while simultaneously pumping more money into the Pentagon. For Zielinski to talk of City budget woes, yet he wants to throw more money at the two most heavily-funded departments, he cannot be taken seriously.

Maybe if we focused more on infrastructure to attract businesses we could create more jobs, alleviating some of the poverty and inequality in Milwaukee and, thus, reducing the need to spend a majority of the City of Milwaukee budget on police officers.

As City of Milwaukee resident who voted for Zielinski as my representative, I am extremely disappointed by his position. It is incredibly short-sighted.

Maybe Tony should do some reading about urban infrastructure, transit, connectivity and smart growth. Does Mr. Zielinksi not realize that his Bay View neighborhood benefits from the growth in downtown Milwaukee? Does he not understand that the construction, new restaurants and positive developments occurring in Bay View are related to the boom that is taking place in downtown Milwaukee? It’s partially because of the FIRE industries located in the downtown, where many Bay View residents work, that Bay View residents have the disposable income to spend on bars, restaurants and other attractions. (Not to mention all the workers involved in the construction and/or renovation of these projects.) To hamper the streetcar, and thus the potential and attractiveness of the downtown, is to hamper Bay View. The investment in the streetcar is an investment in all of Milwaukee, including Bay View.

To start, the streetcar will connect the downtown – its employment centers, the lakefront and the major attractions (Summerfest, Art Museum, the Bucks arena, etc.). Hopefully, if Milwaukee can be as forward thinking as every other city its size, we will expand the system…connecting to Miller Park, UWM, Marquette and Mitchell airport, to name a few.

Zielinski’s latest press release - October 2, 2017 - proposed eliminating $208,000 for two streetcar management positions and instead moving that money to police officer positions. Since police officers average around $65,000 per year, this would equate to roughly three police officer positions. Which, of course, makes no sense. Are these just political ploys to introduce Zielinski to a wider audience within the City for a possible mayoral run? Plus, eliminating management from the streetcar only burdens its potential. Citizens, businesses and tourists will benefit from a well-run streetcar.

The City of Milwaukee has made repeated cuts to other departments and vital community services while, up to this point, leaving untouched the fire and police department. This cannot continue. Should the Mayor continue to allow the police and fire departments to strong-arm the City of Milwaukee budget? Why should every other department, worker, and/or project continue to accept less, while the police officers and fire fighters continue to get more and more?

The Mayor is functioning with less and less. And, in the face of such adversity, his budget seems practical and reasonable.

Where were Zielinski's press releases when other vital departments’ budgets were being cut and their employees were getting furloughs, laid-off, not getting raises, paying more for health care and contributing more to retirement? Was he bashing the Mayor then for not funding those departments? Other departments’ budgets haven't seen increases in years, many have seen cuts, yet the police and fire fighters keep getting theirs. They always do. And that’s why they take up 88% of the entire budget!

Zielinski's comments and position on the streetcar should definitely be in the forefront of his constituents' minds during his next re-election campaign. His short-sighted outlook will have negative long-term consequences for Bay View, Milwaukee and the citizens.

For Further Reading:
Infrastructure Financing Options for Transit-Oriented Development
Measuring Benefits of Transit-Oriented Development
Impact of Transit Cuts On Access To Jobs In Metropolitan Milwaukee
Light Rail In Milwaukee: An Analysis Of The Potential Impact On Economic Development
Strategic Value Creation In Infrastructure Projects
Why America's Public Transportation Is Crumbling

Alderman Zielinski has just released yet another press release.

A driver ran a red light the other day and killed a woman and her daughter. The accident is terribly saddening (any avoidable accident such as this always is).

Zielinski is now demanding city-wide installation of red-light cameras.

Here, again, we have a situation that will cost the taxpayers money. The red-light cameras will need to be purchased, installed, monitored, repaired and occasionally upgraded.

I'm not against such technology. I'm just saying, this, too, costs money.

For Zielinski, the money spent on cameras would be fine. But spending on a streetcar, which would also benefit local citizens, is too much. Even though a streetcar would mean less people having to drive and, thus, less people possibly blowing through red lights.

It should also be noted that red-light cameras will not prevent accidents. They don't stop cars that have gone through red lights. If you're not noticing the red light and blowing through it, you're also not going to notice the camera.

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