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Assembly Sends Milwaukee County Reform Legislation to Senate

Eric Allix Rogers, flickr

The Assembly on Wednesday approved legislation to shorten the terms of Milwaukee County supervisors and limit the board’s power.

Former Milwaukee County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo introduced the bill. He says it's about giving county residents what they’ve been asking for, for more than a decade.

“We’re going to change the terms in Milwaukee County for supervisors to go back to two years. We’re going to put a control on some uninhibited spending on a county board budget that has grown so out of whack over the years that the county board in Milwaukee County spends $6.5 million just on itself. That’s more money than any other county in this state gets in shared revenue to run their counties,” Sanfelippo says.

Milwaukee County has the state's only full-time board.

Sanfelippo’s bill would put more authority in the hands of the county executive. The Republican lawmaker says his proposal has prompted a long-overdue conversation.

“In the last four months, we’ve had more debate about whether there’s a need for reform in Milwaukee County government than I was able to get done in four years on the county board,” Sanfelippo says.

Late last month, county supervisors approved their own set of reforms, hoping to stave off mandates from the state. Their plan reduces salaries by 20 percent and calls for an audit and increased efficiencies.

Milwaukee Democratic Rep. LaTonya Johnson says the county did not need the state to interfere. She warned lawmakers that by approving Sanfelippo’s bill, they would set a precedent for meddling in local government matters.

“This is a matter of local control, and we all know this. And the dangerous part about this bill is that it gives us the authority to intervene in any county’s business anytime, anyway that we want,” Johnson says.

The bill would put a on the county ballot, asking residents whether to cut supervisors' salaries in half.

Democratic Rep. Fred Kessler of Milwaukee predicts the referendum results would be skewed because the vote would likely take place on a low-turnout election day with no major races on the ballot. Kessler calls the bill another way to disenfranchise voters.

“This is just in my opinion another attempt by the majority party in this house to deprive African Americans and Hispanics of their right to participate fully as citizens in this county. It joins the other list of things like voter ID, cutting down the time where people can vote in advance, and all the times and opportunities and all the chances for participation in an equal way,” Kessler says.

Sanfelippo’s bill passed on a party-line vote of 59-39. Now it heads to the Senate, where a slightly different version is expected to pass. Both the Senate and the Assembly must pass the same version.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.