MADISON - The Milwaukee County Board is the only target of a bill that would curb its power and require a vote on cutting the pay of county supervisors, Republican backers of the measure said Wednesday during debate in the Assembly.
Democratic opponents have cast the bill as an attack on the power of local government that could be the beginning of a broader effort targeting others. They also argue that those in Milwaukee County, not the Legislature, should make decisions about the structure of the board.
But Republican supporters of the measure say the Milwaukee County Board has been unwilling to make needed changes to itself and is out of control.
"When the board wants something, they take it, illegal or not," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, said at a news conference prior to debate.
The Republican-controlled Assembly was expected to pass the proposal late Wednesday.
The measure would reduce the Milwaukee County Board's resources and authority, increase the power of the county executive, reduce the terms of county supervisors from four to two years, and require a binding referendum next year on cutting supervisor salaries from $50,679 to $24,000.
Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, tried unsuccessfully during his four years as a Milwaukee County Board member to reduce the size of the board and make other changes to it. He won election to the Legislature in November and immediately began working on the proposal to force the changes.
He said before debate began that the Milwaukee County Board is the lone target and it's "absolutely not" his intent to go after other units of local government.
"It's not going to spread," Republican Senate President Mike Ellis, of Neenah, told The Associated Press. Ellis became a vocal supporter of the measure amid reports that the county board was meeting with a decertified union representing county workers.
"That's an arrogance that trumps local control," Ellis said.
He said the county was barred from negotiating with the union under the law passed in 2011 that took away most collective bargaining rights from public workers. But District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees contends that its decertification was reversed by a court ruling in September.
Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled that portions of the law were unconstitutional, but the ruling has been appealed.
Ellis said he hoped the Senate would vote on passing the measure in May or June.
Assembly Democrats argued Wednesday that the measure is a power grab and a distraction from improving the economy, which they said is what voters want them to be focused on.
"We're setting a precedent now that takes power away from one level of government and lets those decisions be made by another level of government," said Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee.
Gov. Scott Walker, who served eight years as Milwaukee County executive before being elected governor in 2010, supports the bill and last week urged the Legislature to pass it.
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