Some thoughts on Milwaukee County’s non-binding referendums

On Tuesday County Executive Chris Abele sent an email to County Board members expressing concern that putting three more non-binding referendums on the November ballot would cost Milwaukee County taxpayers over $100,000.

The Comptroller’s Office estimates that putting three more referendum questions on the ballot will cost from $75,000 to $120,000 and will require the county to take that money from the continency fund, he said.

That’s on top of the $25,000 to $40,000 that the county will have to spent on the Citizens United referendum, he said.

That means a total of up to $160,000 would be spent to pay for four non-binding referendums.

The board’s Judiciary Committee on June 12 agreed to put three more non-binding items on the ballot. One asks the state to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. A second measure asks voters if they favor the state expanding federal funding to expand BadgerCare. A third asks if state law should be changed to transition from an elected county executive an appointed county executive.

Abele outlined his concerns with the non-binding referendums thusly:

“I am worried that we are spending much needed tax dollars on a question that we already know the outcome,” he said. A resolution would “make as a compelling statement” without costing taxpayers, he said.

After hearing news of Abele’s opposition to placing three more non-binding resolutions whose results can be easily predicted on the fall ballot, Chris Liebenthal of Cognitive Dissidence trotted out his predictable line of attack against Abele, an attack that goes something like this.

“Plutocrat, plutocrat, plutocrat….rich guy, rich guy, rich guy.”

Sure, Liebenthal cites some examples of how money could be found in the County’s budget to pay for the cost of placing the referendums on the November ballot, but he seems to ignore the fact that passage of the referendums by voters will change absolutely nothing in Milwaukee County. No policy or laws will change as a result of the passage of the referendums, and given that the outcomes of the referendums really isn’t in doubt, I have to question the point. It goes without saying that I support the policies behind the referendums that will be on the November ballot, but I simply don’t see why they’re necessary. The County Board of Supervisors could just as easily pass resolutions expressing their support for the policies at the heart of these referendums with the same effect as placing them on the ballot, while saving money in the process.


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9 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Milwaukee County’s non-binding referendums

  1. I agree wholeheartedly, Zach. We insisted on a referendum in Eau Claire county on Move To Amend because we needed to advertise and inform the issue. But it was the only one on the ballot that year. 3 or 4 referendums could simply confuse people and restrict voting participation, and would, like you say, achieve nothing.

    1. Legally binding I’m all for, because then the referendums would actually mean something.

      Given that the outcome of these referendums in Milwaukee County aren’t in doubt, I just don’t see the point, other than serving as an expensive symbolic gesture.

  2. While I can understand your irritation with the repetitive chatter coming from Capper, I like these referendum questions. The Chippewa Valley Moral Monday Coalition convinced the Eau Claire County board to put both of these questions on the ballot last month and now we’re going to canvass low income areas and let people know so they’ll get out and vote for them.

    1. Don’t get me wrong; I support the policy behind the referendum – I simply question the need for these as opposed to our elected County Supervisors simply passing several resolutions expressing their support, which would have the same force of effect.

  3. What is the breakdown of the cost for these referendums. The extra ink? The time to tally each item? The state spends $300,000.00 a year subsidizing the storage of spent nuclear fuel rods. My point is we have plenty of things we waste money on, including waste. On the other hand I think anything that encourages democracy and the direct participation of the voters is beneficial to our society. Maybe the right question should be, “Why does it cost so much?”

  4. Dead wrong, Zach. We need these items precisely because our state doesn’t allow much when it comes to citizen initiatives being out into law, but delegates it to the legislators to do it. When legislators have been bought off, or if the Legislature is gerrymandered to prevent the will of the people from being carried out, this is a rightful way to make it known what the people want. And it puts the legislators on the spot, instead of burying inconvenient legislation and issues- like they have done with marijuana legalization and continuing the war in Iraq, for example.

    Abele is showing his anti-democracy stripes by trying to keep these items off the ballot. We should be encouraging every outlet to get people involved, instead of blocking them and making politics even more of an insiders’ game.

    1. Jake, is there really any doubt what the citizens of Milwaukee County want?

      Does anyone honestly question the outcome of these referendums?

      And honestly, if you think the passage of 4 non-binding referendum will cause Republicans in the legislature to feel “put on the spot,” then you and I have a different perception of Republicans in Madison. Republicans could care less about the outcome of these referendums, and they won’t feel any pressure to take any action.

  5. A better criticism of Abele is that while he opposes these advisory referendums he has said there should be an advisory referendum on a sales tax to pay for the stadium.

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