After Scott Walker was elected Wisconsin governor in 2010, Milwaukee County was left without an executive. At the time, Chris Abele was a local philanthropist, whose work led him to a greater understanding of the budget shortfalls facing the county — and he thought he could help.
Abele ran, was elected, and has served as the Milwaukee County executive for nearly a decade. Now, he’s leaving the position but not necessarily leaving politics. He says he was first drawn to the position because "if you want to have an impact on the ability to uplift and empower as many of the underserved population as you can, counties are, in my opinion, the best place to do it."
As Abele prepares to move on from his role as Milwaukee County executive, he says his replacement faces a tough road ahead. “It won’t matter what the politics are, what the personality, or anything about who is in my office or the office of any of the supervisors. At the county, we’re going to see really, really drastic cuts,” Abele says.
He says that five years from now, the Wisconsin Policy Forum projected the gap would be $79 million, which could mean cutting the entire Parks Department and the Department on Aging. He believes this is a cumulative problem until about 2037.
“I’ve had to make $288 million worth of cuts. Not a single one of those was because I wanted to do it. It was because we had less to work with, so it makes for tough decisions,” Abele says. “That gap is projected to continue to grow. The only solution is for the state to let us keep a bit more of what we send or give us a tool to raise more revenue here.”
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