A major theme of philanthropist Chris Abele’s campaign for Milwaukee County executive has been a promise to crack down on the perks of taxpayer-paid cell phones and cars by "politicians and bureaucrats."
The candidate has repeated the pledge in a television ad and -- most prominently -- in a direct mail piece to voters.
That piece features two large photos of a Lincoln Town Car, bearing the license plate "U-PAY", parked in front of the county courthouse.
The words above the cover photo: "They’re driving on your dime."
Inside, there is this statement: "Milwaukee County politicians and bureaucrats think they can drive and run up cell phone bills on your dime while our county suffers. I don’t. It’s time to cut the perks and change business as usual."
That statement is presented as a direct quote from Abele. To underline the pledge, Abele’s name is listed below it (albeit with his first name misspelled).
With the direct mail piece coming on top of the ad, it got us wondering about the perks, especially the snazzy cars. (A second piece echoes the first, but features a cell phone with the words "They are dialing on your dime.")
Just how many politicians are driving around in them?
We asked Abele spokesman Brandon Lorenz which officials have their car on the chopping block.
"The county executive has a car," said Lorenz. "If elected, Chris will cut it."
He’s referring to a 2006 Chevy Impala that’s kept at the Courthouse Annex for use by the county executive. Latest records show it has about 23,000 miles on it.
Under former County Executive Scott Walker, now the governor, some 2,032 miles were put on it from June of 2009 to June of 2010.
How much is it worth?
Edmunds.com, a car pricing service, pegs the trade-in value of that make and model at $9,400 -- assuming it’s in good condition and has a better than average option package.
But what about all the other cars? After all, the ad and fliers suggest there is plenty of money to be saved by cutting them.
We located a Nov. 19, 2010 report to the County Board that lists all county passenger vehicles used by employees, other than those within the Sheriff’s Department.
Aside from the county executive’s car, the only other one for an elected official on the list is a 2003 Ford Crown Victoria assigned to the district attorney. The DA is allowed to keep the Crown Vic -- another model frequently used as a squad car -- at his home to respond to crime scenes.
The list also includes a variety of delivery vans, SUVs and so forth, including about 10 vehicles that workers use to cart critters around at the zoo.
No Lincoln Town Cars were listed.
At Milwaukee City Hall, aldermen receive a monthly "car allowance." But county supervisors (as well as judges, and most other elected county officials) receive no such perk.
Let’s complete our visit to the motor pool.
Abele has promised to slash perks enjoyed by county politicians and bureaucrats. Outside of the Sheriff’s Department, two elected officials have county-funded cars; one, the top prosecutor, has his for emergency use and is not targeted by Abele.That narrows Abele’s car-cutting target to one vehicle: a five year old Impala that’s worth less than $10,000.
That’s a drop in the billion dollar budget.
There’s a bit of truth here … Of the more than 75 county elected officials, at least two have access to a car that’s paid for by taxpayers. But the argument Abele is making -- that he’ll cut lavish perks to save hardworking taxpayers a bunch of money -- comes up flat.
We rate the claim Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.