By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill Tuesday weakening powers of the Milwaukee County Board, after agreeing to relatively minor changes brought forward by Democrats.
Major portions of the proposal to reduce the board’s resources and authority remained in place following the 19-14 vote. Under the bill, the powers of the Milwaukee County executive would be increased, terms of county board supervisors would be reduced from four to two years, and a binding referendum would be ordered for next year on cutting supervisor salaries from $50,679 to $24,000.
Republican backers supported it as a way to rein in what they describe as an uncontrollable board unwilling to make needed reforms. But Democrats criticized the measure as a power grab that could result in similar changes being forced on other units of local government across Wisconsin.
Republicans say the Milwaukee County Board is their only target.
The Assembly passed the bill earlier this month but had to take it up again Tuesday to concur with the Senate’s changes. The body concurred with the revisions late in the evening on a voice vote with no debate.
The measure now goes to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a former Milwaukee County executive who fought bitterly with the county board during his tenure. Walker supports the measure.
“This bill is undemocratic,” Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said during Senate debate. “It undermines the very democratic process our state was built on.”
He and other Democrats complained that Republicans should not be telling local governments how to operate.
Debate on the measure came after the Legislature’s budget committee last week voted to end a requirement in Milwaukee that all public workers live within city limits, a move fought by city leaders. The same committee also voted to change how a Milwaukee street car project would be funded, putting its future in doubt.
“I think Milwaukee County is being picked on,” said Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee. “In Milwaukee we’re really feeling under siege. Instead of being part of the state, we’re being disenfranchised like we’re second-class citizens.”
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, defended the bill.
“This is not anti-Milwaukee County,” Darling said. “This is to make Milwaukee County function more efficiently.”
Changes passed by the Senate would give both the county board and county executive the ability to have separate lobbyists that report to them; give the board a spending cap exemption for the rental cost of its facilities; and provide four staff in the county comptroller’s office to do research and analysis of county proposals and issues.
All Republicans voted for the measure with all Democrats against except Sen. Lena Taylor, of Milwaukee, who said the measure represented a good compromise and concerns of those who opposed the bill were overblown.