“The state of Milwaukee County is sound,” Lee Holloway joyfully told a room packed with supporters, county board members and staffers.
“Our airport is more popular than ever, we have made major decisions that will improve our long-term fiscal health and we have a plan to revamp mental health care.”
This is the verdict handed down by the soon-to-be former acting Milwaukee County Executive in his first state of the county address. Holloway, who is on the ballot for the position permanently, hopes to be making more of these speeches in the future.
After admitting to me he was a “little bit nervous” before the address, Holloway went to the front of the auditorium of the County’s Mental Health Complex in Wauwatosa and led part pep rally, part election speech and part welcome to his successor, Marvin Pratt.
Pratt will take over as county executive after a formal vote by the county board on Feb. 3.
Holloway touted, as his predecessor did, the success of Mitchell International Airport – claiming it is now the fastest growing airport in the nation (during the second quarter of 2010 over the same period in 2009) and the third fastest growing airport in the world! But most of that growth has come due to AirTran and Frontier airlines choosing to place hubs in our city.
But that didn’t matter to Holloway, he sees the airport as an example to foster business growth and regional cooperation, one cog in his plan to reinvent Milwaukee County. The other two pieces in the reinvention – reducing the tax levy and becoming more self-sufficient with less dependency on state shared revenues.
To accomplish this reinvention, Holloway, the county board and Pratt will continue to work to create jobs, tackle the county’s structural debt, reduce duplication of services, establish a dedicated funding source for transit and parks and develop a new model of mental health care for the county.
Holloway challenged his former adversary – “I ask Gov. Scott Walker to give the voters what they asked for. Give us dedicated funding to lower property taxes and fully fund transit, parks and emergency services.”
The line received rousing applause, but considering Walker’s eight years of refusing tax increases in the county and a gubernatorial campaign promise to not increase taxes, I doubt residents of Milwaukee County will be paying additional sales tax to fund the buses anytime soon.
Holloway also proposes selling land in the Park East Freeway corridor and asking for a redirection of rental car sales taxes collected by the now-dormant Southeastern Regional Transit Authority to fund transit.
As for the county’s employee pension fund, he said it is currently more than 93 percent funded and that market returns on the Pension Obligation Funds have already saved taxpayers $240 million. He explained that he and the board choose to postpone the investment until 2009, after the stock market crash, much later than another candidate currently seeking the county executive’s office had suggested.
That candidate, Chris Abele, said Holloway’s call for a tax hike to fund transit is an example of the basic instinct of career politicians.
“Raising taxes often delays the hard decisions we need to make and rewards the rampant inefficiency in County government,” Abele told WisPolitics.com. “Instead of raising taxes, we need to raise ridership and efficiency by connecting the largest density of workers to the largest opportunity for jobs, and look at tactics like smarter scheduling of routes during shift changes and rush hour.”
Holloway also introduced Michael Thomas as the new administrator at the Mental Health hospital. Thomas was an employee with the county for 15 years before moving to New York, where he continued to work in the mental health field. His most recent position was as the director of regulatory affairs for the Health and Hospital Corp., New York City’s public hospital system.
Thomas will work with Holloway to put smaller community-based 16-bed facilities into place, which would replace the current hospital that has been out of compliance with federal regulations for a number of years. County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo will chair the New Behaviorial Health Facility Study Committee within the board.