Meet The 2020 Milwaukee County Executive Candidates

Updated Feb. 20 at 11:10 a.m. CT

The Wisconsin general election is on April 7, the same day as the presidential primary. One of the biggest races is for Milwaukee County executive.

Chris Abele announced last October that he's not seeking reelection after holding the post since 2011. Two candidates are competing for his position: state Rep. David Crowley and state Sen. Chris Larson

>>Wisconsin Spring Election Results
>>What Lies Ahead For The Future Milwaukee County Executive

To help you get to know more about the candidates, we sent them the same list of questions. Here are their responses (in alphabetical order):   

David Crowley
State Rep. David Crowley Wisconsin is running for Milwaukee County executive.
Credit Courtesy David Crowley

Tell voters a bit about yourself:
I was born and raised in Milwaukee and have been active in our community my entire life. For the last four years, I have fought everyday in the state Legislature for the nearly 60,000 residents of the 17th Assembly District.

I live in Milwaukee with my wife Ericka and our three daughters. I’m running for Milwaukee County Executive to ensure that residents across this county, no matter their ZIP code, have access to opportunity and receive the quality of services they deserve.

The county is operating at a structural deficit, estimated to be $15 to $20 million per year. How would you balance Milwaukee County’s 2021 budget?
The budget shortfall is not a new problem. We have been dealing with it for over a decade and it won’t get fixed before the 2021 budget. We must do all that we can to secure the 1% sales tax increase, but we also need to be realistic about the fact that it is not going to pass through the current legislature and even if it does, it isn’t going to immediately fix all of our problems.

We must get creative about generating revenue. This means focusing on getting all of our residents counted in the census and going after money that we are currently leaving on the table. I will create an office at the county that is dedicated to seeking out federal, state, and foundation grant dollars that other municipalities are taking advantage of.

>>Crowley Says He Rises Above Partisanship

The county’s taxpayer contribution to support its pension fund will total nearly $100 million in 2020. How would you address this issue?
Much like the budget, the pension issue is not a new issue and will not be fixed overnight. Two years ago the Milwaukee County Retirement Sustainability Taskforce was established to address issues with Milwaukee County’s pension system. I believe that we must continue to build on the work they have done and explore the recommendations that were made in late 2018.

I will continue to work with the County Board, the Taskforce, and other community stakeholders to come up with a solution that makes fiscal sense for the county but also protects the benefits of our retirees. Most importantly, we have to bring everyone to the table to address this issue, especially the residents that will be most affected by changes to the current system.

Milwaukee County will be outsourcing its Behavioral Health Division’s inpatient services. The future of Psychiatric Crisis Services is undetermined. What is your plan for PCS?
I will make sure that all residents have access to mental health care. This means having these resources available in neighborhoods across the county, not just at one centralized location. In times of crisis, it’s not always possible to travel to a facility for care. Having these resources available in the community will make it more likely that residents will seek out the help they need.

It is my strong preference that all county services are performed by county employees. As county executive, I will do everything that I can to work towards that. However, in our current situation, we have to make sure that our private provider is held accountable and is providing our residents with the high quality service they deserve.

Learn more about Crowley.

>>County Executive Candidates Share Ideas On How To Keep People Out Of Jail

Chris Larson
State Sen. Chris Larson is running for Milwaukee County executive.
Credit Courtesy of Chris Larson

Tell voters a bit about yourself:
I'm a current Wisconsin state senator running for Milwaukee County executive. In 2008, I was a Milwaukee County supervisor and led the coalition to pass a countywide advisory referendum to fund our parks, transit, and emergency medical services with a 1% sales tax while reducing property taxes. In the Wisconsin state Senate I was at the forefront of fighting against the attacks on workers in our state during Act 10. I'm running to build a county where every Milwaukeean can thrive.

The county is operating at a structural deficit, estimated to be $15 to $20 million per year. How would you balance Milwaukee County’s 2021 budget?
We’ll be looking at the full scope of the problems and work with professionals and local leaders on the issue. I look at the government, as a community. For a long time that ideology has been missing from the Milwaukee County executive's office. I would welcome public participation in local budgeting via community dialogue and experts. We will restore local control with Governor Evers and get fair revenue sharing, along with applying to state and federal grants as well as working with local businesses in developing long-lasting partnerships for county programing. We will need to be creative and see what other local governments have done successfully.

>>Larson Says His Experience Sets Him Apart

The county’s taxpayer contribution to support its pension fund will total nearly $100 million in 2020. How would you address this issue?
In 2020, Milwaukee County’s pension obligations represent 37% of the property tax levy. In recent years a number of reforms have been enacted to alleviate the cost to the taxpayer; such as increasing employee contributions to 6.5% as well as eliminating the buyback and backdrop programs. As county executive, I will seriously consider handing over the pension program to the Wisconsin Retirement System for administration. Working with the state, we can alleviate county stresses as well as having the added benefit of rolling in our pension program into a larger network of payers to stabilize the fund.

Milwaukee County will be outsourcing its Behavioral Health Division’s inpatient services. The future of Psychiatric Crisis Services is undetermined. What is your plan for PCS?
Milwaukee County is struggling with mental health because hospitals don’t see these services as being advantageous to their bottom line. We can get money for these services by pushing the state to take the full medicaid expansion, and using potential money from lawsuits filed against drug companies that make opioids. We will need both government funds, as well as private funds, and we need to hold those who have pushed this accountable. We’ll be looking at the full scope of the problems and work with professionals and local leaders on the address the issue.

Learn more about Larson.

What do you want to know about the 2020 elections and the DNC convention? Submit your questions below.

_