Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is turning out to be the Lucy van Pelt of the state legislature.
Remember Lucy from the "Peanuts" comic strip? She'd urge Charlie Brown to kick a football, promising to hold it for him, but she'd always snatch it away just as he arrived at full gallop, causing him to crash to earth while screaming "AUGGGGHHH!"
Vos, a Republican popcorn wagon entrepreneur from Rochester in Racine County, just performed a great impersonation of Lucy by holding out a political football to the City of Milwaukee and then grabbing it away when Mayor Tom (Charlie Brown) Barrett tried to kick it.
Capitalizing on a recent spate of shootings in the state's largest city, Vos insisted that “errors” by Barrett and Police Chief Ed Flynn were worsening violent crime. Could the rise in shootings whatsoever be related to high unemployment, or to GOP-bred gun-control deregulation and new concealed-carry laws? No way, say the Repubs, but they don't actually offer any concrete suggestions for making things better. At least, none that make any sense.
Nevertheless, because city officials haven't corrected their "errors," Vos said it was doubtful Milwaukee's request for matching state aid to help pay for unbudgeted police overtime would do any good. Because, as Vos' ally, State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-Suburbs) helpfully explained, "Just throwing money at it [sic] is not what people are interested in." No, senator, you evidently are not interested.
Do Vos, Darling and other Republicans actually think Milwaukee might be able to create an all-volunteer, even free police force? After all, if you hire more cops, you actually need to PAY THEM SALARIES. And if you expect officers to put in extra hours when there's a crime wave, you actually need to PAY THEM OVERTIME. Who knew that paying people for the work they perform is "throwing money" at a problem and not simply something called "wages"?
Try talking about "throwing money" at police operations to Dave Erwin, chief of the Capitol Police. He's a Walker pick who just got an $11,000 (that's 12 percent) annual raise through the magic of back-room paper shuffling and underhanded fake job transfers; Erwin has invested much time lately arresting people for singing in the Capitol rotunda, or just observing same. If he was appointed Milwaukee police chief, would Erwin promptly begin arresting people for passively observing crime scenes? Hey, give that man another raise!
On Vos' list of Milwaukee's imaginary errors (actually, excuses for why he's paying only pay lip service to the issue): He claims the city lately has been reducing the number of sworn police officers. Actually, according to department records, the Milwaukee Police Department had 1,355 police officer positions filled in July 2013 compared to 1,332 at the same point in 2007.
Also, MPD reduced its sworn-officer vacancy rate from 11% in 2007 to 8% in 2013. And, despite the recent wave of shootings, Milwaukee logged a 16% decrease in violent crime, a 34% decrease in property crime, a decrease in homicides and a 30% decrease in overall crime in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2007. That damn Milwaukee mayor and his lib-ruhl, permissive attitudes! Why, he actually believes in ... facts and history!
Milwaukee's crime-rate decreases were accomplished despite state-imposed mandates and revenue-sharing cuts that in the past two years have made it harder for Milwaukee and other state cities to collect tax revenues and cover the cost of basic services. Not to mention the exemption of cops from Scott Walker's Act 10, meaning unlike most other public employee unions across the state, law officers still have the right to negotiate for pay and benefits -- so no summarily reduced compensation for city workers, as Walker has imposed on his state government workforce.
Here's where we get into political "Peanuts": Vos initially said he was “definitely open” to considering Milwaukee’s request for police overtime assistance, as long as the city showed him it could make better police decisions, even though he's ignored what the city already showed him. If the mayor started advocating for a "proper agenda," he said, "I will stand there right next to him trying to find ways to make it happen."
Wow, the guy is an expert in popcorn AND effective policing procedures. Who knew Vos had secret degrees in criminal justice and police science? Plus, he expressed willingness to help curb the city's rash of gun crimes. [Forgive us for suspecting his "proper agenda" might involve Democratic Party officials handing the keys to the city over to Vos, after cutting public education, economic development and social programs that would create jobs, reduce fear and hopelessness, and lower the crime rate some more.]
Whoops, never mind. Vos had no real intention of helping at all. Look out, he's swiping away that metaphorical football!
After Barrett said his latest budget would add 100 police officer positions to an already substantial (quarter billion dollars a year) police department budget, Vos retracted his pledge to find ways to help. Partisan attacks, it turns out, are much more fun. Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that it was good the city was spending more of its own residents' money on police operations, but he added that the mayor should not count on further state (i.e., Republican Party) assistance.
Because Vos and his pals obviously have other priorities. For example, they've redirected some of the city's property tax revenues to the suburbs and other wealthier places in Wisconsin, and they enacted a law allowing Milwaukee police and other municipal workers to move their residences outside the city. That GOP move will redirect even more city revenue and arguably weaken the allegience and responsiveness of those fleeing officers, in the way suburbs earlier were happy to accept many of the city's businesses and jobs, although not many of its minority residents.
Vos is playing Lucy van Pelt now, but had he risen to political power in Michigan, he would have made a great comic book super villain waging the lengthy, anti-local campaign to dismantle what was once that state's greatest city, Detroit. But Vos lives in tiny Rochester, Wisconsin, so instead he has no choice but to pick on Milwaukee. Someday a headline in our state might echo one made in the New York Press decades ago when a president refused emergency aid to that then-struggling city, to wit:
"Vos to Milwaukee: Drop dead"
Oh, and lest we forget: No action is expected from Vos and his minions, either, on Milwaukee's request that the legislature enact mandatory minimum sentences for those who illegally possess a firearm. Nor any state aid to expand one of the city's most effective anti-shooting tools: A sophisticated audio triangulation system that uses computers and a network of outdoor microphones to pinpoint the sounds of gunfire and vastly increase police response time. Wouldn't be prudent at this juncture because, hey, the state is broke. No wait, that was the Walker excuse last budget. This time it's: We can't be throwing money at problems, although we're happy to make exceptions for our pals.