As goes Milwaukee so goes Wisconsin, but does GOP care?

Matt Pommer  Wisconsin Newspaper Association

For many Wisconsin residents, the biggest summer story coming from Milwaukee was the drug-related suspension of baseball hero Ryan Braun.

Drawing less statewide attention was an increase in shootings, and Milwaukee leaders were ready to ask state government to help pay for overtime for police to stem the gun-related violence. Much of the violence seemed to be located in areas with large minority populations. For some time, Milwaukee has been considered among the most segregated American cities.

Unspoken was the fear that Milwaukee will become another Chicago where shootings, murder and violence have drawn national attention.

At first blush it would seem that Republican Gov. Scott Walker would be sympathetic to a request for cop overtime funds. Walker likes to be portrayed as a law-and-order politician. He came to the governor's office and announced he wouldn't pardon anyone while he was in office.

As a legislator in the 1990s, Walker was one of the promoters of the "truth-in-sentencing" laws that limited judicial discretion in criminal cases. The governor has even adopted a tough approach to people signing songs in the Capitol Rotunda. His Capitol police have arrested and handcuffed many of the lunchtime singers.

These people were singing without a permit, and the Walker administration continues to push the hard line. One journalist covering the singing was among those arrested and charged by the Capitol police.

Republican legislative majorities, with their strong rural and small city ties, may be reluctant to offer any help to Milwaukee police. Their constituents may not be highly concerned about violence in Milwaukee, especially if it appears much of violence is among minorities. The GOP legislators also know that Milwaukee citizens tend to vote Democratic at election time.

But Milwaukee is a potential economic albatross around Walker's political neck. He had promised to create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin in his four years in office, and the latest numbers indicate he will fall short of the promise.

Mark Bugher, who recently retired as director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Research Park in Madison, earlier this summer, said the economic numbers in Wisconsin are terrible, "but the secret to the Wisconsin economy is still Milwaukee."

"If you compare Wisconsin and Minnesota, the biggest difference is that Minneapolis-St. Paul is very successful and humming along but the City of Milwaukee is not doing very well," said Bugher, who had served as secretary of administration under former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

The comparison is troubling to Republican ideals. Wisconsin has reduced its personal income tax rates; Minnesota adopted higher taxes to pass its budget. Minnesota has adopted to take additional federal Medicaid money and provided health care for an additional 120,000 citizens.

The Walker administration rejected additional federal money for Medicaid. The program is being restructured, and 92,000 Wisconsin citizens - including many thousands in Milwaukee - will soon be getting letters from the Walker administration telling them they will lose Medicaid coverage in 2014.

Some will remember the governor rejected federal money that would have provided high-speed rail service linking Madison and Milwaukee and Chicago - that refusal sent the money to other states.

In an interview Bugher urged help for the City of Milwaukee: "My advice to elected officials is to do all you can to help the Milwaukee economy, the school district, the infrastructure there. That will pay dividends for the balance of the state."

Earlier this year the GOPcontrolled Legislature voted to override Milwaukee ordinances requiring police and firefighters to live in the city. It will allow these protective workers to live in suburbs near the city.

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