2 big races in Milwaukee

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele (left) is being challenged in the April 2016 county executive race by a fellow Milwaukee Democrat, state Sen. Chris Larson. (Journal Sentinel photos)
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele (left) is being challenged in the April 2016 county executive race by a fellow Milwaukee Democrat, state Sen. Chris Larson. (Journal Sentinel photos)

In April 2016, voters in Milwaukee County will elect a county executive and voters in the City of Milwaukee will elect a mayor.

Incumbent County Executive Chris Abele has one major challenger in state Sen. Chris Larson, a fellow Milwaukee Democrat (though, like mayor, the office is officially nonpartisan).

Meanwhile, the two major challengers to Mayor Tom Barrett are aldermen Bob Donovan and Joe Davis Sr.

Transportation, taxes, Abele’s power and crime are among the issues that have been fodder for fact checks so far during the two campaigns.

Here’s a look at some of the more recent claims we’ve rated.

Transportation

Davis said the $124 million streetcar project proposed by Barrett for downtown Milwaukee "would actually take precious revenue away" from the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Our rating: Mostly False.

Davis based his argument on the use of two tax financing districts that would help pay for the streetcar project.

Taxes generated on additional development in the tax districts would go to the designated use until the borrowing is paid off. But once borrowing is paid, it still wouldn’t be direct revenue for the schools.

Rather, it’s additional tax base. If the increased value went onto the overall tax rolls, all property taxpayers in the city would benefit. And, in theory, MPS could collect more without taking a bigger bite out of the pocketbooks of property owners.

Abele said that since he took office, "we have never raised" bus fares and "this year there’ll be a million route-miles more than there were five years ago."

Our rating: Mostly True.

The county transit system has had constant fare prices and a million mile increase in route miles. But in stating the claim, Abele gave himself too much credit for the new routes that largely generated the extra miles. Those were the result of a lawsuit against the state.

Larson said the county bus system has "among the highest fares in the nation."

Our rating: False.

The system’s $2.25 cash fare wasn’t at the top of a national comparison, with fares reaching as high as $4 per trip.

Taxes

Abele said he balanced the county budget "without raising taxes five years in a row."

Our rating: Half True.

Abele did propose a freeze in the property tax levy each year and he issued budget vetoes that would have kept the levy down. But the County Board ultimately adopted a budget that raised the total property tax take in four of the five years, and Abele took advantage of those actions when he proposed a freeze the following year. So, taxpayers are paying more than when he took office.

Barrett said every general City of Milwaukee employee "pays toward his or her pension, but approximately 88 percent of our police officers and firefighters do not," which puts additional pressure on property taxpayers.

Our rating: Mostly True.

The state collective bargaining law known as Act 10, adopted in 2011, requires most public employees in Wisconsin, including all general City of Milwaukee employees, to make contributions toward their pensions.

Because the law exempts police and firefighters, only Milwaukee police officers and firefighters hired since late 2011 make pension contributions -- the vast majority, 88 percent, do not.

However, it’s worth noting that the police and firefighter unions in effect are paying toward their pension in that they made wage concessions in exchange for not making direct contributions to their pensions.

County executive powers

Larson said the county executive can sell the public "museum, the airport and the zoo" -- all on his own, without County Board approval.

Our rating: Mostly True.

A recent change in state law that applies only to Milwaukee County allows the executive to sell any county-owned land not zoned as park land without approval of the County Board.

However, such sales would need the OK of at least one other person -- either the elected county comptroller or a real estate expert appointed by elected municipal officials who lives in the community where the land is located.

Crime

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said that in Milwaukee County, juveniles arrested for car theft "get sent immediately home, because under the point system in juvenile court" on holding suspects, "a stolen car gets zero points."  

Our rating: Mostly False.

It’s possible for a juvenile arrested on an auto theft-related charge to be released home until appearing in court, usually the next day. It depends on the facts of the case and factors such as whether the juvenile can be supervised by a responsible adult.

But under the point system, auto theft is worth 10 points, not zero. And that would typically result in the juvenile being held in secure detention or at an alternative facility until appearing in court, depending on factors such as the juvenile having a prior record.