By Steve Jagler Special to Published Apr 03, 2009 at 11:36 AM

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The drama surrounding the power struggle between the Milwaukee County Board and County Executive Scott Walker over federal economic stimulus funds is showing no signs of conclusion just yet.

The board voted on Tuesday, 16-2, to override Walker's veto of a county policy to apply for federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Hours after the board overrode his veto, Walker released a list of $130 million in stimulus projects applied for or received by his department heads. Walker said his initiatives were begun prior to the County Board's resolution on stimulus funds and reflect those projects that meet his criteria to protect the county taxpayers:

  • No matching funds required by Milwaukee County.
  • No long-term federally mandated financial commitments required.
  • Expenditure of requested funds will not obligate Milwaukee County to new operating or maintenance expenses.

In a Milwaukee Biz blog last week, Walker repeated his stance that he would not apply for federal stimulus funds that required a local match of funds.

"At the start of the year, I laid out clear criteria for any application for federal 'stimulus' funds: No matching funds required by Milwaukee County. Most federal grants require a 20 percent (or greater) match from the local government. 'Free money' sounds nice until you read the fine print and realize local taxpayers could be required to provide a match, which they cannot afford. For example, if our county receives $50 million for infrastructure projects under this formula, local taxpayers will have to come up with an extra $10 million. And if we borrow to cover the $10 million, the cost goes up by $920,000 per year. This hardly sounds like 'free money' to me."

However, in a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker said his ban on seeking stimulus projects that required matching dollars was not absolute.

"I didn't say 'never' on match," Walker said.

In addition to the flap over the issue of matching funds, there are the matters of legal recourse and who will ultimately be calling the county's shots for the stimulus applications going forward.

"Scott Walker's anti-stimulus agenda took a serious hit (Tuesday) when the County Board took the reins of leadership away from him and assumed control of the county's stimulus efforts," said Joe Wineke, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, who accused Walker of flip-flopping on the issue of matching funds.

Walker has already threatened to sue the county board if it uses federal money from the Recovery Act to create new jobs and projects for Milwaukee County's residents, according to Wineke. Wineke also said Walker has banned county staff from working with the state Office of Recovery and Reinvestment on any efforts to create jobs to Milwaukee County through the act.

However, Fran McLaughlin, director of communications for Walker, sent BizTimes Milwaukee the following e-mail:

"A correction is needed to the story posted yesterday on stimulus dollars. The DPW quote is inaccurate in stating that the county executive has threatened to sue the county board. The county executive has never threatened to sue the county board.

"This likely stems from an article Steve Schultze of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote: 'If the state approves money he didn't ask for, Walker said, he'll reject it. If the County Board puts up a fight, he'll consider legal action to prevent the money from being spent, he said.'

"The county executive responded to that reporter's inquiry about what he would do if board issued a resolution to accept stimulus money not meeting his criteria. He said he would have to look at the legality of it and find out what his legal options would be regarding a resolution and veto. This is not threatening legal action. It is common to seek the opinion of the corporation counsel on how to proceed in situations that have not come up before in the county."

Walker, a Republican, is raising funds to challenge Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle in 2010.

"As he prepares a run for governor, it's clear the Scott Walker is trying to differentiate himself from Jim Doyle, and from other Republicans," said Democratic County Board Supervisor John Weishan. "Unfortunately, his position on stimulus funds are a detriment to the citizens and taxpayers of Milwaukee County. In fact, Scott Walker's own list of stimulus projects are inconsistent with his three-point criteria. Most of the projects he has submitted thus far are highway-related and will require future maintenance costs. You can't build anything without expecting it to deteriorate and require some level of maintenance."

Here is the list of stimulus projects for which Walker said his department heads have applied or will apply:

Child Support Enforcement ARRA Funds $1,050,732; DAS Build America Bonds TBD; Housing Neighborhood Stabilization Program $4,700,000; Housing CDBG Funds (additional) $465,341; Housing HUD -- Homelessness prevention & rapid rehousing $712,755; Transit replacement of buses, fare boxes and voice annunciator system $25,675,100; Highways WisDOT Economic Recovery -- Local Bridge and Road Program $97,010,000; and Public Museum Multiple $1,037,000.

Steve Jagler Special to

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at