First, here’s the thoughts of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Editorial Board on the recent statements by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele that he’d veto a deal reached by the County Board with representatives from the Milwaukee Art Museum and the War Memorial.
The deal does create a better balanced and more efficient governance structure between the two bodies, as well as several other entities that were under the War Memorial umbrella, such as the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. It also provides a set funding level of taxpayer support for the two entities at $1,586,000 for 10 years — about $1.1 million for the Art Museum and the rest for the War Memorial.
Much of that money will be used to help pay for utility costs and routine maintenance at the War Memorial, which has been deteriorating. Coupled with $10 million pledged by the county for major maintenance issues and the $15 million the Art Museum plans to spend on a major renovation, the funding will help restore the War Memorial to a building in which all county residents can take pride.
The guaranteed 10-year support and partnership with the county may also help reassure donors that their money will be well-spent, as Dimitrijevic has argued.
Furthermore, the nearly $1.6 million is not out of line with the average $1.5 million in annual support the county provided from 1999 to this year.
So the deal makes sense on several levels, and prolonging a hopeless political fight over the issue appears fruitless.
That said, Abele is making a sound fiscal argument and a principled stand. He is willing to support the institutions to a tune of $1.3 million, roughly what it was in 2012. And a 2011 audit of the War Memorial helped make a strong case for weaning the institutions off public dollars. Promising the institutions nearly $1.6 million a year for 10 years may not be the best way to do that.
Yes, the community owes veterans a great deal, and the county owns the War Memorial building and has an obligation to maintain it. But at what level of taxpayer support? Community support doesn’t necessarily mean government support, especially when county government faces a host of serious financial issues, from mental health care to transit to parks to maintenance at other buildings.
I absolutely support the Milwaukee Art Museum and there’s no denying the War Memorial is an iconic structure – and both are very deserving of funding – but I would rather have seen the extra $300,000 per year that Marina Dimitrijevic and the Board of Supervisors want to spend on the Milwaukee Art Museum and the War Memorial get spent on actual services for Milwaukee County veterans, and I know at least one Milwaukee County veteran who agrees with me.
After all, a $300,000 increase in funding for the County Veteran’s Service Office would represent a 100% increase in that office’s funding, and I’m betting that office could do a heck of a lot of actual good for Milwaukee County’s veterans with an extra $300,000 in funding.
But here’s an idea: if Marina Dimitrijevic and her allies on the County Board really want to honor and support Milwaukee County’s veterans, perhaps Marina & company would be willing to give up $300,000 from the County Board’s annual budget in order to demonstrate their support for Milwaukee County’s veterans. Then again, the County Board would actually have to submit a budget request for themselves, which I understand they haven’t done.
That being said, I do actually agree with the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board that Chris Abele shouldn’t veto the agreement reached. While I appreciate his desire to stand on his principles, it’s clear his veto will be an exercise in futility. I’d rather see County Executive Abele spend his time trying to find a way to increase funding for actual veterans’ services, because I know there are a lot of veterans in Milwaukee County who could use additional help.