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Milwaukee County in running for stimulus money

Dustin Block

Green construction projects in Milwaukee County may get a boost from the County Board’s decision Tuesday to pursue stimulus money despite County Executive Scott Walker’s objection.

The county is eligible to apply for $733,000 to make energy-efficiency improvements, said County Supervisor Theodore Lipscomb. It also may have access to bonds that would allow the county to see savings from its energy-efficiency program soon, he said.

Applications for those stimulus dollars — plus potentially millions in proposed road and bridge projects — were affirmed Tuesday after the County Board voted 16-2 to override Walker’s veto of a resolution supporting the pursuit of stimulus money.

Walker dismissed the override vote as “political theater,” noting the county already is applying for millions of dollars in highway and bridge projects.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “We’ve applied for more than $130 million in projects.”

Walker is one of the most notable political leaders in Wisconsin to take a public stance against accepting payments from the $787 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress earlier this year. Some of the other leaders who rejected money are Republican governors concerned about requirements that come along with the money.

Milwaukee County Board members criticized Walker during Tuesday’s meeting. They suggested he was trying to further his political career by refusing to apply for stimulus money.

“What’s clear to me is the county executive is putting his self interest and personal ambition above the interests of his community,” said County Supervisor Gerry Broderick.

Walker said he opposed accepting any stimulus money that required the county to cover part of the cost, made a long-term financial commitment or required new operating or maintenance expenses. He said he didn’t want to see the county cut its budget to come up with the match needed to obtain stimulus money. None of the county’s current applications required a match, Walker said.

County Supervisor Joseph Rice was the only board member to speak in favor of Walker’s veto. Describing himself as “skeptical” of the stimulus plan, he said the federal money came with hidden costs the county should avoid.

“These dollars are not free money,” said Rice, who was joined by County Supervisor Paul Cesarz in voting to sustain Walker’s veto.

While the board’s override of the veto establishes the county is in favor of using stimulus money, County Supervisor Patricia Jursik said she is concerned Walker will delay efforts to research and apply for the money.

Lipscomb, chairman of a committee created to research stimulus opportunities for the county, said that is happening already. He said Walker is not only falling behind on tracking what stimulus dollars are available when but also has delayed the County Board’s efforts to gather needed materials.

Lipscomb cited green construction projects as an example. He said implementing energy-efficiency improvements and accelerating a county environmental stewardship program known as Green Print could lead to long-term financial savings, but said Walker has not supported efforts to get money for such work.

County Supervisor Christopher Larson said Walker, who is pushing tax cuts as a stimulus option, is out of touch with the political reality of the moment.

“Tax cuts do not create jobs … tax cuts are not going to build bridges or buy buses,” Larson said.

County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. said Walker’s concerns about long-term costs runs counter to the intent of the stimulus plan, which is designed to pay for short-term projects to create jobs and get the economy moving.

But Walker argued County Board supervisors misrepresented his position. He said he has heard of only one or two projects -– both proposed by County Board members –- that wouldn’t meet his criteria for applying for money. In those cases, it may cost the county money in the long run, Walker said.

“I wouldn’t apply for things that would ultimately cost the taxpayers more money,” he said.

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