The Madison Common Council heard public testimony on amendments to the city's 2007 Executive Capital and Operating budgets Tuesday night, hearing from more than fifty people on the proposed cuts and additions to a variety of programs and projects. While there is an avalanche of information that can be reported on what the public had to say, here are the ten most lasting impressions from the meeting.
- The meeting started with two of its members very temporarily absent, as neither council president Austin King nor southeast side alder Judy Compton were present when roll was called shortly after 6:30 p.m. They arrived shortly after the meeting started to take their seats, though.
Where were they? Shortly before the show got underway, Compton asked King to help her carry up stacks of sandwiches, veggies, cookies and brownies that she had left-over from a professional luncheon earlier in the day. All of it was stacked atop a desk in the small press room for reporters covering city and county matters, which is located on the north side of the council's meeting chambers.
This fed alders, city staff, and members of the media through the night, all of whom retreated periodically to the room to grab a bite and perhaps a moment's breather from the proceedings. Council deans Tim Bruer and Ken Golden even hung out in there for a few minutes during the public testimony, chatting and laughing with a couple of city managers. By the end of the meeting shortly before midnight, most of the food was gone.
- There are 13 amendments in the Capital Budget, well 14 really as the final item is split into two parts. There are 40 amendments in the Operating Budget.
- There were 16 people who spoke on amendments the Capital Budget, and their testimony took less than 50 minutes. The testimony was very heavily weighted against most of the amendments, with 54 registrations made against the 14 amendments and only 6 in favor. In other words, there were nine times as much registered opposition to the amendments as there was support for them.
The amendment receiving the greatest level of public opposition with twelve registrations against it was the one deleting $1.2 million in funding for James Madison Park. Following closely behind with ten registrations against it was an amendment deleting some $900,000 in general obligation debt funding for constructing railroad crossings downtown.
- There were 34 people who spoke on amendments to the Operating Budget, with their testimony running just over two hours. Some of these were the same persons who had spoken on the Capital Budget, including vocal downtown resident Rosemary Lee and Downtown Madison Inc. president Susan Schmitz.
The testimony on this budget was much more balanced between ayes and nays, most likely having to do with the fact that there were many more amendments authorizing spending increases that were sponsored by alders in the progressive wing of the council. In all, there were 118 registrations made against the 40 amendments, and 83 others made in favor.
There were no officially announced public registrants for seven amendments. These were: $10,013 in cuts of salaries and benefits from the mayor's office, $19,371 in additional spending for AASPIRE interns, $10,000 in additional funding for sign language interpreters, $8,008 in cuts for an occupational accommodations specialist position, an amendment on the reorganization on Department of Planning and Development that has no levy impact, a delay in the start date for a neighborhood planning position that will save $18,920, and an elimination in $2,500 in funding for a new coffee urn for the Madison Senior Center.
What about the amendments for which there were registrants in support? Two received 12 registrations apiece in support, these being one to add $20,000 in funding to the Sister City Program and reduce the same amount from the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), and another to provide $33,000 in funding for a new Westside Planning Council. An amendment to provide $25,000 in funding for the Salvation Army for a warming shelter received nine registrants in support, meanwhile, while another that would designate ten MPD officers as neighborhood officers had eight persons registering in support. All of these amendments were co-sponsored by members of Progressive Dane.
There were more than a few amendments that had considerable opposition as well. Two amendments each had 19 persons registering against them, one that would cut $10,000 in funding for the Sister City Program and another that would eliminate $37,531 in funding for child care at five neighborhood centers mostly serving low-income residents. Nobody registered in support of the former and only one for the latter, respectively. Receiving almost as much opposition with 17 registrants against it was an amendment that would cut $44,375 in funding for the Respect program (that provides counseling and life skills training to prostitutes); nobody registered for it. Then there were 11 persons registering in opposition to an amendment cutting $300,000 in funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and 11 also opposing one that would eliminate any discrete funding for a Westside Planning Council and allocate all funding for the organizations four ways instead of three. Finally, nine people registered in opposition to an amendment that would delete $100,000 in funding for the Emerging Neighborhoods program. All of these amendments were co-sponsored by Zach Brandon and various alders -- his first term allies and council conservatives -- who collectively offered a package of 28 amendments to the budgets.
In all, it was progressive members of the community who turned out to speak on the budgets. This is typically the case most years.
- The person registering to speak on the most amendments was progressive activist Lisa Subeck. The mayor read her list so rapidly that one could barely catch the more than a dozen items for which she was staking a position. She focused largely on one amendment during her testimony, though, one that would provide $30,000 in funding for the Wisconsin Youth Company and after school child care programming. Perhaps considering another run for the southwest side district she failed to capture in 2005, she discussed her experiences in that part of the city in terms of providing services for children from low-income families. And while nobody registered opposition at the meeting to eliminate funding for a new coffee urn at the senior center, she did oppose this amendment in writing.
Subeck also stuck one of the more confrontational notes during the testimony. 'A couple of alders are doing some serious grandstanding,' she said while looking directly at Zach Brandon before expressing hope that the council would 'look carefully at the budget and not cut things like the neighborhood child care programs and the affordable housing trust fund.'
- Train whistles in central Madison. The saga never ends. The two amendments in the Capital Budget addressing this issue -- one providing funding to apply for a federal Quiet Zone near the intersections of East Johnson Street, Fordem Avenue, and North First Street and another cutting funding for constructing railroad crossings on the east side -- boasted more registrants combined than any others in that budget. Both residents and developers, including Union Corners mastermind Todd McGrath, spoke in favor of tighter railroad regulations and crossing regimes in the heart of the city. More than any other, this issue reflected geographic tensions between alders representing the central, near east and south sides of the city versus those representing the peripheries.
- Shortly after testimony began on the operating budget, two candidates for the open council seat (currently held by the departing Brian Benford) in District 12 spoke almost one after the other. Mike Basford and Satya Rhodes-Conway, both of whom boast strong progressive credentials and involvement in their northside neighborhoods, each spoke on several amendments.
They each supported the amendment providing funding for a Westside Planning Council and opposed the one deleting that same funding and splitting the planning council funds into quarters rather than thirds. Basford additionally spoke in opposition to the cuts to the Respect anti-prostitution program, while Rhodes-Conway spoke against cuts for child care at community centers and in favor of directing the ten new MPD positions as neighborhood officers.
Both sounded like candidates in their public testimony, speaking broadly about their vision of operating the city and specifically about the policies towards which they are particularly focused.
- One of the three most powerful testimonies given at the meeting came from Mary Kay Baum, a local pastor, long time civic activist, and former mayoral candidate in the city of Madison. She began her statement thusly: 'Many of you know because of my early stage Alzheimer's I am not appearing before the public too often, but I had to pace my day to speak here tonight. The Sister Cities program changed my life.' Baum subsequently discussed her work with the Madison Arcatao Sister City Project since its beginnings during the dirty wars in El Salvador and other Central American nations in the 1980s.
When the sister relationship was officially launched in 1986, she says, word of Madison's approval prevented a massacre in the mountain twon. 'I did learn that your resolution actually saved lives,' Baum said. Becoming very emotional during her statement against cutting the $10,000 in funding for all sister cities, she closed by noting city's longtime support of the program. 'All of the mayors of Madison in the last 20 years have been very supportive and understand the importance of sistering,' she said, urging the council to do the same.
Baum was only one of ten persons to actually speak against the cuts in funding, which is dispersed to all nine of Madison's sister cities.
There were many others speaking about the program, for the most part through their own experiences with one sistering relationship. Michael Iltis works with the Madison-Ainaro Sister-City Alliance; he urged alders to read his report on a 2002 trip to East Timor as a representative for the program. Kathy Walsh of the Madison-Arcatao program also spoke, as did Daina Zemliauskas-Juozevicius of the sistering relationship with Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania.
There were also several representatives of the city's newest sister city relationship, that with Obihiro, an agricultural center located on the eastern plains of Hokkaido in Japan. Karen Hendrickson of that program said that the cultural exchanges between the cities easily justify the $10,000 in funding through hotel and restaurant revenues, while the city's money is important as 'a gesture for reaching out to and showing our support for our friends around the world.'
- The other two most powerful testimonies of the night came from two former prostitutes whose lives were changed by the Respect program. 'Today I am no longer a prostitute thanks to Respect,' began the first registrant who was arrested for prostitution in 2005. 'Prostitution happens in Madison. With the help of drugs and some older friends, I found out what prostitution was.' She subsequently told her story about how she fell into trading sex for money and drugs, and told the council that the problem is much more serious than most people realize. 'I didn't realize I was a dumb little girl who would be eaten alive on the streets,' she said. 'Sexual exploitation is common and people get stuck in it for a variety reasons. There are a lo 't of men buying sex in Madison, men who aren't even from Madison comes to parts of Madison to find these prostitutes.' Telling the council that she was speaking up in order to make sure the Respect program helped other women like herself. 'Do you want prostitution and sexual exploitation to just keep going on with no reprieve, no place for women to turn or no solutions? Without Respect, I would be a drug user and maybe dead.'
The second former prostitute read a letter in support of the program from Sgt. Chris Paulson of the MPD, who spoke highly of the program and its success in addressing the root causes of street prostitution in neighborhoods on the south side of the city. There were several other persons speaking against the cuts, including Repect's director Jan Miyasaki and a thankful mother of a former prostitute.