Friday, November 28th, 2014

At end of one-year term, a final score on Abele-O-Meter

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is wrapping up his one-year term, and unopposed for a four-year one. A look at how he fared on our Abele-O-Meter
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is wrapping up his one-year term, and unopposed for a four-year one. A look at how he fared on our Abele-O-Meter

The end of Chris Abele’s one-year term as Milwaukee County executive means it’s time for a final look at how the political newcomer did in keeping promises he made as a candidate.

With our Abele-O-Meter, PolitiFact Wisconsin tracked 17 promises Abele made before he was sworn into office in April 2011. His term was just one year because he won a special election to the seat after Scott Walker left it to become governor.

Abele is running unopposed for a four-year term in the April 3, 2012 election. But since his promises were for the one-year term, we’re rating them accordingly.

The final score on the 17 pledges: Abele earned a Promise Kept on seven promises and a Promise Broken on 10.

Promises kept

Abele took a page out of Walker’s book and pledged to "introduce a no-tax increase county budget." As it did with Walker, the County Board refashioned the budget to include a tax increase, but that didn’t affect Abele’s promise.

Also Walker-like was Abele’s kept promise to freeze the spending for the county executive’s office and to cut "perks" such as cars and cell phones in the county (though the number of cars and cells cut was small).

On the spending side, Abele followed through on his promise to develop a plan to spend a long-idle $36 million in federal transit funds. He opted to put the money toward buying 136 new buses, about a third of the county’s fleet.

We also gave Abele a Promise Kept rating for removing some roadblocks to development; convening a panel to tackle the county’s long-term debt; establishing a framework aimed at identifying ways to consolidate services among state and local governments; and creating office space in the city economic development office for the county economic development director, in the hopes of furthering cooperation.

Promises broken

Abele promised not only to introduce a county budget with no tax increase, but not to raise taxes, period. Despite the budget he proposed and vetoes he later issued, taxes went up. The tax increases were approved by the County Board but, nevertheless, the increases meant he didn’t deliver on his pledge to voters.

He also failed on a promise to give a temporary property tax exemption to "new small business startups based on new net jobs created" (mainly because such a move likely is not legal).

A couple of Abele’s broken promises were perhaps just far too big to keep in one year. One was to overhaul the transit system to connect workers and employers and another was to combine state and local public employees into a buying pool for health insurance.

We also gave Promise Broken ratings to Abele because he didn’t establish a "final plan" for developing the Park East part of downtown Milwaukee or implement a "real jobs strategy" for the county. He also didn’t create a plan to turn county property into "job generators"; didn’t sell unused or underused county land or buildings to entrepeneurs; and didn’t sell such assets to pay down the county debt. And he didn’t create a fund to make loans and grants to businesses.

Editor’s note: We’re hoping to create a new Abele-O-Meter for promises made in advance of a full, four-year term, as well as a promise meter for the winner of the Milwaukee mayoral race. If you have suggestions of promises to track, email them to politifact@journalsentinel.com.