Sunday, June 18, 2017

Streetcar Or Safety

Looks like Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinkski might be setting himself up as a challenger in a run to be the Mayor of Milwaukee.

Current Mayor Tom Barrett recently announced he might have to eliminate some safety-worker positions (police officers, firefighters,nurses, code inspectors) due to budgetary constraints.

Zielinkski immediately ridiculed the Mayor, saying even mentioning the possibility of cutting positions as "reckless" and "unreasonable".

Zielinkski framed the discussion as being between keeping the positions and building the streetcar. Because those are the only two budgetary choices that can be made - keep safety positions or build a streetcar?

And, just 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. But Milwaukee spending $128 million on a streetcar to be used by residents, tourists and businesses is a waste?

Barrett, himself, even stated that cutting those positions is not what he wants. But sometimes, as Mayor, you have to make choices that won't please everyone.

I get that the streetcar is a bit of a lightning rod and certain persons with access to the media love to pile on about what a waste the streetcar is. Although every other major city has some sort of streetcar, light rail or similar. So, it seems more like, as usual, 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.

In our current police-state era, funding for defense/police/safety can never be diminished. More officers and more guns, always. In 2013, 59% of the City of Milwaukee budget went to just the police (41%) and fire (18%) departments.

We've been doing this for decades now, it hasn't worked. To keep funding this imaginary, more-cops-is-the-answer paradigm, is simply throwing away money. Why, when it comes to defense or safety, is there no limit on the amount of people needed or the amount of money that should be spent? At the local, state and federal level, America's defense/safety budgets dwarf those of other nations. Yet, we're no safer. What is all this money being spent on? Seems like there is obviously a lot of efficiency that can be made.

The Police Association's President Michael Crivello stated, "We're going to do everything to keep this community safe, but we won't be as effective as we otherwise would be should we be properly staffed."  How is this quantified? What does "properly staffed" mean? What metrics is the Association using to determine safety, effectiveness, staffing, etc.?

Maybe we do need to keep the positions. But using fear and emotion to guide a decision is definitely not how policy should be made.

We should start by making a more scientific basis for these discussions and decisions. Platitudes and bumper-sticker slogans sound great, but they typically don't have the nuance and depth required for good public policy.

We could remove some exemptions, raise the local sales tax, add fees for certain services, collect more taxes, provide less incentives to private developers and businesses, and on and on. There are numerous ways fund the many services we all count on from our local government.

The saddest thing is that this is being pitted as a streetcar versus safety debate. It shouldn't be. These are not the only choices.