Milwaukee County Executive Candidates Take Questions on Economy


The March 8 forum at the Hyatt Hotel in Milwaukee was organized by and the Wisconsin Technology Council with the help of MMAC, the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors, and UW-Milwaukee. Participating were County Executive candidates Scott Walker and David Riemer and mayoral candidate Tom Barrett. Some audience questions were unable to be answered because of time constraints. The Walker and Riemer campaigns responded to versions of those audience questions by e-mail.


  1. How would you change the tenor and tone of government in terms of how it relates to unionized employees?

    Walker: Our represented employees are a vital to our success. I have worked diligently to create opportunities to involve our represented staff and their unions in the planning and operations of county government. The opportunity to participate, in a meaningful way, is the best way in which we can change the tenor of this relationship.

    Riemer: Acrimonious blame and disrespect are counter-productive. Management should seek cooperative and creative solutions to eliminate waste and bring down costs. Unionized labor is a potential problem-solving partner with a vested interest in a healthy, stable community. No one benefits from massive layoffs or an excessive tax levy that drives jobs overseas.


  1. What are your plans to utilize Marquette University and UW-M as tools or major factors in bringing entrepreneurs and venture capital to Milwaukee? Do you have a plan?

    Walker: Marquette University, UW-M and our other institutions of higher learning are important tools in identifying, creating, and expanding job and business creation in Milwaukee County. They, through their participation in TechStar, are already important players in creating and nurturing entrepreneurs at the Milwaukee County Research Park. This focus was helpful in recently attracting GE Healthcare to locate their new research and production facility at the Research Park.

    Riemer: Milwaukee is beginning to foster a more creative, entrepreneurial culture that appeals to mobile, technology-focused workers, and we need to encourage that spirit throughout the county. Marquette and UWM play a critical role in both training and providing the exciting academic environment that retains these workers. County government itself should support infrastructure for the new economy (such as increased broadband capacity), and be a progressive partner in strategic planning.

  2. The Milwaukee Public Schools have big problems with dropouts and performance. What’s the biggest thing that needs to change?

    Walker: The creation of accountability in the system is the biggest change needed at MPS. Accountability of the teachers for the performance of their students, the accountability of students for their efforts and work/study product, the accountability of parents for the attendance and participation of their students and themselves, and the accountability of the School Board for their spending priorities and standards to which they hold their schools.

    Riemer: The money must support the students, not the bureaucracy. Education resources must be spent on materials and activities that directly improve student performance. Most educational bureaucracy focuses on process, not results. We must change that


  1. Where are the people who lost their jobs in manufacturing going to find jobs since they are often too old to be retrained for jobs in the new economy? Who will pay for their re-education? How are they going to live while they are going to school?

    Walker: The Private Industry Council is the county’s primary job training and workforce development entity. Its programs should be constantly evaluated to ensure that it meets to evolving needs of our community.

    Riemer: First, we need to stop separating people into specialized categories with different programs and funding. To the extent we need programs for people who can’t be absorbed in the private economy, we should move from a system of multiple programs with overlapping bureaucracies to a single system that offers transitional jobs and focused retraining. The entities entrusted with this work should be responsible for results (i.e. getting people into living-wage jobs), not process, and should rely on existing funding sources.

  2. Jumpstarting a service economy takes a fundamentally different approach than traditional asset-based approaches. How do you plan to address this?

    Walker: I have proposed a "Grow Milwaukee County" plan that includes specific proposals to reduce the tax and regulatory burden placed on businesses in our community. Furthermore, the plan includes the creation of new resources to address changing and underserved market segments.

    Riemer: Our reality is changing at the speed of technology and our infrastructure needs must keep pace. The county executive must be able to envision what’s coming next and dare to make the right decisions now about broadband access, transportation, etc. that will take decades to realize. The county executive must also be a leader who thinks regionally, cooperatively, and long-term, and who is willing to plan strategically for the long haul.

  3. What REAL plan do you offer to re-educate, train and provide career employment opportunities for central city residents?

    Walker: As mentioned previously, the Private Industry Council is the primary job training and workforce development entity for Milwaukee County. Also the Community and Economic Development Fund will provide business assistance and resources to small and minority businesses.

    Riemer: As county executive, I would create for all of Milwaukee’s unemployed the opportunity to set up an Individual Employment Account —a personalized, web-based account that will interact with dozens of existing government programs intended to help the unemployed. These programs are often poorly advertised and hard to find or access, but the IEA will help overcome most barriers of knowledge and access. See the website as a predecessor of what I’d hope to expand for a broader audience. Since my work on this website with the New Hope Project and other officials, the technology to personalize information and searches has improved. The IEA will have far greater capacity to adapt to each worker’s specific situation.

  4. How do you intend to bring new manufacturing businesses to Milwaukee? Please be specific and concentrate on manufacturing jobs.

    Walker: The most important factor in attracting new jobs to the Milwaukee area is creating a tax and regulatory environment that encourages job growth. The recent decision on GE Healthcare to locate in the Research Park demonstrates the success of this strategy. We must build on this to cluster similar businesses to create a technology development area. Also, the freeway and interchange reconstruction that will occur over the next 5-10 years provides a tremendous opportunity to grow new and existing businesses in Milwaukee.

    Riemer: We must drive property taxes down and control the health care costs that are devastating our region. These are the most important steps in bringing manufacturing jobs here. But we must also maintain our existing infrastructure (i.e. the port, airport, sewers, etc.) and ensure that we keep pace with changing infrastructure needs (e.g., expand broadband width).


  1. What is your position on the Park East corridor?

    Walker: The development of the Park East corridor brings many opportunities to Milwaukee. A market-based, mixed-use development strategy provides the greatest opportunity for success. For the county, in addition to an increase in the tax base, this development will provide significant revenue from the sale of the 16 acres the county owns. I have proposed using these revenues to create a Community and Economic Development Fund to provide resources for a variety of economic development activities.

    Riemer: Milwaukee County needs to work closely with all of the key participants in the Park East or other redevelopment projects – labor unions, minority organizations, business groups, the GMC and the city – to develop standards that maximize several important goals: job creation, a mix of housing, high property values, and an overall pattern that effectively and attractively balances residential, commercial, and quality of life goals.

  2. What will you do to redevelop central city neighborhoods wrought with duplex properties, single-family homes in decay, foreclosures, vacancies and abandoned housing stock?

    Walker: Neighborhood redevelopment is primarily a function of the municipality. However, through our CED Fund the county will be able to provide gap financing and resources to add to those of the City, the private sector, and the non-profit sector to help projects that need a little extra boost.

    Riemer: We are seeing some success in Milwaukee with block grant and other initiatives that are underway. The county executive must keep taxes low, make health care affordable, and otherwise promote job development, since private homeowner improvements flow primarily from workers holding stable jobs at decent wages.


  1. How does the city/county reduce the tax burden on homeowners and businesses? Cut services? Or grow its way out?

    Walker: First, we must vigilantly ensure that our services are provided in the most efficient manner possible. Then we must work diligently to grow our tax base, while controlling expenditures, to reduce to burden of taxes on both families and businesses.

    Riemer: The county executive must 1) eliminate the extraordinary waste, inefficiency, and duplication that now characterizes county government, 2) adopt cost-cutting technologies, 3) move programs off the property tax that don’t belong there, and 4) provide smart, honest budgeting that people can depend on and plan around. Maintaining quality of life services and lowering the high cost of living and doing business in Milwaukee County will encourage both homeowners and businesses to stay and expand in the county.

  2. What types of collaboration between the city and county could occur to drive down government costs and make area businesses more competitive?

    Walker: We should always look for ways to avoid duplication of services. We have done it effectively within county government and we must do the same in cooperation with other governmental units, where it can be shown to make fiscal and programmatic sense. Economic development is one of the primary areas that we must work together. Job growth in Cudahy positively impacts Milwaukee, north eat Milwaukee impact Glendale, etc.

    Riemer: We must eliminate duplicated services. For example, both the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County grow trees in Franklin, literally across the street from each other. We may need the workers from both sites, but we certainly don’t need two bureaucracies to oversee them, or two purchasing departments to buy the vehicles, etc. 911 service should be handled by one entity, not two as at present. And we don’t need the city, County, and school district to control three separate grass mowing operations at the same location. There’s waste everywhere, and it’s costing money without enhancing services.

  3. What specific tax incentives would you propose to attract businesses and jobs to the area?

    Walker: The CED Fund would be our primary tool to attract businesses and jobs to the area. Given the fiscal pressures on governments at all levels, we must use tax incentives judiciously. Our efforts to create a general tax climate that makes Milwaukee a great place to do business are also essential to this effort.

    Riemer: It is not possible to create special tax incentives beyond TIF districts. The county should concentrate instead on offering real incentives such as lower property taxes, lower health care costs, and enhanced quality of live services—with the added benefit that these incentives help everyone, not just a lucky few with special connections.

  4. What can be done to get additional federal and state dollars to the community to lessen pressure on property taxes?

    Walker: A planned and concerted lobbying effort is required to increase the amount of federal and state money brought to Milwaukee. State and Federal legislators also need to understand how unfunded mandates negatively impact their constituents in Milwaukee.

    Riemer: We need more effective lobbying at the federal level. But one specific area that we could address immediately is to replace W2 cash grants with transitional wage-paying jobs to allow citizens to be eligible for the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit. It’s the right message to send to people in poverty, and it would immediately increase the income of those who need it most in Milwaukee.

  5. What’s the single biggest budget decision by your predecessor that you would change?

    Walker: The pension and sick leave benefits passed in November of 2000. These must be reversed.

    Riemer: Both of Scott Walker’s budgets were based on phony revenues. Both budgets blew up mid-year, with devastating effects on services. He admitted the 2004 budget wasn’t real when he signed it, saying he’d probably have to make “adjustments”. I will only sign balanced budgets supported by real revenues.


  1. Where do you stand on the issue of creating a transit authority and getting the airport out from under the county?

    Walker: I support the creation of a regional transit authority.

    Riemer: I would be open to any plan that improves service and decreases cost to taxpayers. But I’m skeptical of anything that would add a level of government or authorize a separate taxing authority. We’ve got too much government with expensive bureaucracy already.

  2. Would you consider building on Mitchell International travel growth in a big way by creating an airport and industrial development authority/partnership?

    Walker: I am open to the idea of such a regional development effort or partnership.

    Riemer: I’d be very interested in exploring any idea that brings jobs to Milwaukee County. Obviously I’d need to see the cost/benefit analysis. We have a delicate lakefront and wetlands ecology. The airport neighborhood is home to people who already absorb a high level of noise. But the airport is an under utilized resource with great potential. And southern Milwaukee County, along with the Racine and Kenosha corridor, is in a great location to take advantage of the large market to our South, as well as other markets across Lake Michigan.

  3. What are your goals for public transportation between Milwaukee and Waukesha and Ozaukee counties?

    Walker: There is a tremendous benefit to be had from the consolidation of smaller transit systems into a regional system.

    Riemer: Buses get people to jobs. We must save Milwaukee’s bus system, support the KRM extension of Metra, and look for ways to ensure that people can easily cross county boundaries efficiently and cost-effectively to go where the jobs are.

  4. How would you combat perceived "favoritism” at MMSD?

    Walker: Given the effective control of MMSD by the appointments of the Milwaukee mayor, I would push the mayor to examine the systems and controls in place to ensure fair and open competition for District contracts.

    Riemer: The county executive has no role in making appointments to the commission. As county executive, I would insure that the county cooperates with MMSD on its flood control and environmental protection projects, including conservation easements and land acquisition to prevent future flooding. That is of interest to the entire county and region.


  1. How do entrepreneurs obtain health insurance now? Should government plan a role in small business health insurance?

    Walker: The state and federal governments can have a much larger and more effective impact on the costs involved in health care. Purchasing pools can be an effective tool for small businesses and entrepreneurs to lower/control costs.

    Riemer: It’s difficult for many people, including entrepreneurs, to obtain health insurance, and it’s killing jobs and job growth in our region. That’s why I have designed a plan ( to make health insurance available and affordable, not only to Milwaukee County employees, but also to private businesses. The County Executive is in a unique position to lead this effort, if he knows how.