As the February primary draws near (can you believe it is next Tuesday) I spoke with Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greenfield) about his quest to become the next Milwaukee County Executive.
Stone would not be upset by the characterization that he is the only conservative in the race. He is proud of his Republican and conservative credentials and his experience as a small business owner, city alderperson and State Representative. Notably, Stone is probably the closest thing Milwaukee County residents could get to a Scott Walker clone in the courthouse.
With that in mind, here are Stone’s views on some of the issues facing Milwaukee County and why he wants to move into the office overlooking Kilbourn Avenue.
Q: Milwaukee County is facing a massive budget hole and fiscal crisis due to past decisions and current economic realities. What is your fiscal plan for Milwaukee County and specifically for transit?
“Looking forward, Milwaukee County is facing a $120 million structural deficit,” Stone said. “And when you have that big of a hole you have to look at the one area that makes up the vast majority of the budget – employee salaries and benefits.”
Stone said he would reign in benefits by obtaining employee concessions to increase their pension contributions and to restructure how health care is delivered. He would look to the private businesses in Milwaukee that have implemented health and wellness programs as a way to reduce costs.
And in an interesting twist, Stone said he will have a complete health and pension plan available for voters, in a few weeks.
Stone said he has had a proposal on the table for transit in Madison and he would want to implement it here.
“We should dedicate a portion of the auto and auto-related sales tax to transportation purposes, especially transit,” he said. “Essentially, transit funding at the state level has been stagnant for 10 years and we need to find a new way to fund it. We need to use sales tax, general purpose revenues, like every other state does for transit.”
Q: Milwaukee County’s system of mental health care has been exposed for the weaknesses and mismanagement on a personal and policy level. What is your plan to care for the most vulnerable and mentally ill among us?
Stone would follow the blueprint for mental health care reforms laid out in the Public Policy Forum’s report released this past October.
“That report calls for small community facility which will provide better care and will allow us to get the federal dollars we have been losing,” he said.
While Stone is receptive to the PPF plan, he places the mental health problem in the county squarely on the county board.
“This has taken too long to get to this, while other communities and states have implemented these changes 30 to 40 years ago. It is a travesty that the County Board let this go on.”
Q: There have been suggestions to disband county government or trim its reach. What is your opinion on the role of county government and do we need it or not?
Stone said there is a purpose to having county government, but he has been vocal about trimming the board size, even sending a letter to Acting County Board Chairman Michael Mayo seeking a referendum to reduce the number of seats and change it to a part-time legislative body.
“The Board is part of the problem,” he said. “A smaller board, serving part-time and with new people, would change the environment. The problems can be solved if the board is focused on the job at hand, not on maintaining their seats and pet projects.
Q: Why should the citizens of Milwaukee vote for you and what are your qualifications to be the administrator of a $1.3 Billion enterprise?
Stone said he is qualified to be the county executive because he has the best understanding of public and private service. He has owned his own printing business in suburban Milwaukee County, hired employees and met payrolls, which he said gives him insight on what new businesses are looking for and how to attract employers to the county.
In addition, Stone served four years on the Greenfield City Common Council and as chair of the city’s finance committee worked to reduce the community’s debt and improved its bond rating. In 1998, Stone moved onto Madison where he has served in the Assembly and is a member of the Jobs, Economy and Small Business Committee.
“I know how to come to a consensus with a local council, I understanding Madison and the state budgeting process, which will be very important for the future of Milwaukee,” he said. “I want to take all of my experience and make Milwaukee County a destination for businesses and industry.”
Q: You’ve just been appointed the Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Health, an important committee considering the fiscal and social implications of health policy in Wisconsin. You’re moving up in Madison. Why do you want to move off that track and come back to Milwaukee as County Executive?
Even though Stone has and is enjoying his work in Madison, he sees Milwaukee County as one of the 50 biggest urban centers in the country and doesn’t see the Executive’s position as a job that is beneath him.
“I see this as an important job. The key to Wisconsin’s future is a vibrant and economically healthy Milwaukee County. I am the person who can make that happen.”
The Milwaukee County Executive primary is Tuesday, Feb. 15. The top two vote getters will move onto the April 5 general election. In addition to Stone, the other candidates on the ballot are philanthropist Chris Abele, community activist Ieshuh Griffin, Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway and former State Sen. Jim Sullivan.