I'm going to start this post with another disclosure of personal information. I work in my day job as the Program Director for Housing Initiatives, Inc. We own housing (51 units in Madison) that we've developed to house formerly homeless persons and families who are disabled with severe mental illnesses.
The changing interpretation of the "rent use restriction" clause of the Wisconsin State Statutes by the Department of Revenue, and the state's baffling inaction as affordable housing providers around Wisconsin face getting taxed out of their agencies' missions, is an issue that affects where I work. It's pretty personal for me.
I was trying to work on a new piece on the new Madison Common Council and try to discuss what it really means to be "bold and aggressive" in Madison (hint: It's a lot more than adding a bunch of more cops, a sprinkling of BioAg jobs and hoping Obama builds you things), when I get an email Monday afternoon that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a copy of an email Mayor Dave sent to the Common Council [reproduced at the bottom of this post] announcing the motion they passed to refer City Attorney Michael May's recommendations for denying property tax exemption appeals for three organizations is nullified.
If you're not familiar with the saga of "rent use restriction" and how the city is going about it, I'm going to refer you to Citizen This post describes the alders brown-bag meeting prior to last week's Common Council meeting. This post and this post provide the blow-by-blow accounts of last Tuesday's Council meeting. This post is a live-blog of the Property Tax Exemption Subcommittee hearing. And this post details Michael May dropping the bomb on the Common Council's decision.
They spent an hour asking questions, deliberating and voting. The Mayor voiced his opposition and the City Attorney assumed the role of the Supreme Court and struck down the decision.
The whole thing should raise a whole lot of seriousquestions, like:
- When was the City Attorney given judicial powers to void Common Council decisions?
- We all knew Mayor Dave was strongly opposed to the motion and spoke out against it at the Common Council meeting. It would have been well within his rights to veto it and let the Common Council try to overturn it, why didn't he just do that?
- The City Attorney argued for denial of the claims and spoke strongly against the idea of approving them. If the Common Council voted to approve the claims, would the same action had happened?
- If the City Attorney's just going to take the action on the claims he wants, regardless of how the Common Council votes, why do we even have the Common Council regard and vote on claims? Or, for that matter...
- Why do we still have the Common Council vote on anything? Do we still need a Common Council?
That last one is a serious question and if I'm an alder, I would be extremely concerned about the development of events here. This slope is getting pretty slippery.
Attached at bottom of is the previously-mentioned (and somewhat unctuous) e-mail telling the Common Council not to worry their cute little heads over this and that the city is working with the governor because he wants a resolution to this issue. Note, however, that he doesn't go into detail as to what resolution he's looking for and that should give pause to anybody who's concerned that our government wants to balance its budgets on the backs of the poor and that we may be taxing poor people back into homelessness.
There were a couple items in the Wisconsin State Journal over the weekend that you may have missed relating to crime in our community and country.
The first one was about a two-day seminar on Wisconsin's corrections system. Here's what the State Journal wrote about one of the participants (edited to conceal identity):
...said that Wisconsin's prison system is "broken" and includes mentally ill, drug- and alcohol-addicted and elderly inmates -- some of whom, [snip] said, shouldn't be there. Many other inmates are nonviolent offenders who could be released early on supervision, said [snip].
[snip] said. "I walk through these prisons. I see all these young men and I say, 'What are we doing?' ... I don't dislike the attorney general. He's a likeable guy. But I very much disagree with him on this issue."
The speakers agreed -- including Van Hollen -- that the corrections systems needs more money for treatment for prisoners with drug, alcohol or mental health problems. [snip] said the state has boosted funding for treatment and vocational and educational training in the prisons but, [snip] acknowledged, "There's waiting lists for virtually all of our programs."
So let's play one of Spin City's favorite games: "Who said that?" Was it:
A) Landslide Kathleen Falk?
B) Citizen Brenda Konkel?
C) Matt "The People's Choice" Veldran? or
D) Scott "I'm just putting him in here because it's his 40th birthday on Wednesday. Wish him a good one if you see him." McDonell?
If you said, "Why Mike, that was said by former Republican Dane County Sheriff, former assistant District Attorney and current State of Wisconsin Corrections Chief Rick Raemisch," you would be absolutely right. And you would also be bad at multiple choice quizzes.
It's simple: Years of "Fail 'em and Jail 'em and Fail 'em some more" have yielded a situation where people aren't rehabilitated in prison and we have a recidivism rate of nearly 40%. This is one major part of Tommy Thompson's true legacy. The consultants are right. For $1.2 bil a year, we're not getting a good return on the investment. It's time to start solving the problems of the vast majority of prisoners who are in our system so they stop becoming society's problems.
Solutions being discussed at this seminar are similar to those enacted by the county, which have brought down the costs in our jail system, allowed us to invest more in deputies, and have no small role in the drop in overall crime we're enjoying in Madison.
Of course, that's not going to stop the wingnut squawkers on some blogs and AM talk radio from cheering on any stories that fly in the face of those unassailable truths and cheer on any new crime and mayhem to feed a meme that we live in a crime-ridden hellhole and should have elected Nancy Mistele last month. But their behavior is always a given.
The other item was a report in the Sunday Local section about last week's vote in the House on HR 1139, which increased funding for the Clinton-era COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program after years of Bush "Administration"-neglect. In the 1990's, this program was one part of what many conservatives called the "Giuliani Method". No, I'm not talking about any blathering about "broken windows", the true Giuliani Method was a simple one. It was:
Be fortunate enough to be a mayor of a large American metropolitan area during the Clinton Administration -- when funding for police on the streets increased along with economic opportunities for an unprecedented amount of citizens.
Simple, non? The idea worked then and will certainly work now. Voting for it was a large majority of Wisconsin's House caucus -- excepting F'ing James Sensenbrenner and Paul Ryan, who's ready for his close-up, Mr. Demille. Spin City will be keeping an eye on how this works in our communities as Pauly's star continues to rise on one wrong vote after another.
Congratulations are in order
Thank you wingnuts! You've answered the question "What do you give President Obama on the occasion of his 100th day in office?" The answer is: "A Larger Senate Supermajority!" These are great days to be a Democrat! We don't need elections anymore to pick up seats! Come over Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, the water's warm!
And it was interesting to note that someone over on the short side of the aisle started to understand what's going on: We're hemorrhaging support and and in the beginnings of a global pandemic. Perhaps we should stop holding up the President's HHS Secretary-Designate and that was taken care of in short order. Welcome abord Secretary Sibelius. Memo to the obstructionist opposition: Your work's not done. There are many other nominees that deserved up-or-down votes yesterday. Get to it. Or don't.
The mayor's email
From: Cieslewicz, Dave
Sent: Monday, April 27, 2009 3:56 PM
To: ALL ALDERS
Cc: Mendoza, Mario; Piraino, Janet; Harmon, Ray; May, Michael
Subject: tax exemption issue
Yesterday you received a message from City Attorney Mike May in which he concludes that state law does not allow us to delay a decision on denying the tax exemption requests in the cases that were before the Council last Tuesday. His full opinion should be in your inboxes today. As a result of the City Attorney's interpretation of the statutes, the exemption requests are denied.
This is not the policy we want, but it's the law we have.
Because I know how concerned the Council is about this issue, I wanted to bring you up to date on some positive things that are happening.
First, I had an opportunity to discuss the issue briefly and informally with Governor Doyle when I saw him at an event on Thursday evening. I emphasized again how important it was to the City of Madison, to the Council and to me that this issue be resolved. He said he understood our position and it was clearly an issue on which he shared our concerns. We will also follow up with a request for a more formal meeting with him on this issue. I also want to make it clear that there have been many contacts both formal and informal between my office and the Governor's office on this issue.
Second, Mario Mendoza appeared before the League of Wisconsin Municipalities legislative committee on Friday and, at my request, convinced them to support our position on this issue. The vote was unanimous.
Third, as a result of that meeting and after discussions with the City of Milwaukee, I will be signing a letter along with Mayor Tom Barrett and League Executive Director Dan Thompson to the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader conveying our joint position and underscoring our strong desire that this issue be resolved quickly.
Lastly, I think it would be appropriate for the Council to introduce and pass a resolution at your meeting of May 5th in which you speak as a Council to the Legislature and the Governor in favor of a quick resolution of this issue. While this has been our position for some time, it would be useful to have the new Council strongly on record in this regard. My understanding is that the City's Housing subcommittee on this issue has some draft language. We will work with Council leadership and interested alders to have language ready to go by next week's Council meeting.
This is not an easy issue for any of us, but if we work together and focus on the state legislation that is needed, I believe we can be successful.
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz