Public Policy Forum Blog

4th Quarter 2016 President's Message

The past year not only was a monumental one on the national political scene, but we also had several important elections and debated a range of meaningful policy issues on the state and local levels. Before 2016 fades into the rear view mirror, I wanted to highlight our research accomplishments from the past year and preview some of our ambitious plans for 2017.

The Forum published 17 reports in 2016 on a variety of topics. Those topics included our traditional budget briefs and regional property tax and public schools reports, as well as new issues ranging from early childhood education to obesity policies to the condition of local roads and bridges. Most were designed to inform both policymakers and the general public about topical policy issues, while a few – such as our analyses of mentoring efforts and cultural planning in other metro regions – were written for narrower audiences that were seeking advice on how to collaborate on important policy initiatives.

Overall, we take great pride in the impact our 2016 research has had on policymaking in our region. For example:

  • The Milwaukee Common Council adopted several of the recommendations contained in Locally Sourced, our analysis of the City's efforts to link Milwaukee residents with jobs created through City investment. Because of our research, the City's revised Residents Preference Program will have a greater focus on serving the most disadvantaged job seekers and on fostering permanent careers in the construction industry.
  • The first in our series of reports on the region’s local infrastructure challenges – A Fork in the Road? – had a substantial impact on 2017 Milwaukee County budget deliberations. The report quantified the County’s daunting bus replacement challenges in the context of its other pressing infrastructure needs, and provided important factual perspective for the County’s wheel tax debate.
  • Making Ends Meet, our comprehensive assessment of the City of Milwaukee’s finances, revealed flaws in the City’s revenue structure that leave the City with little capacity to do more than meet the “cost-to-continue” needs of the Milwaukee Police Department. We also uncovered several pressing expenditure challenges, and our warnings regarding the City’s growing retiree health care obligations initiated a move to eliminate those benefits for certain new hires.
  • Help Wanted, the final installment in our Milwaukee Educator series of reports that outlined the dimensions of a possible teacher shortage in Metro Milwaukee, has helped to coalesce local and state leaders around efforts to address the problem (as reflected in this recent op ed by Marquette University’s Dean of Education). The series also received an award for "Most Distinguished Research" from the Governmental Research Association.

Looking ahead to 2017, we already are working diligently on several important reports that will be released in the first six months of the year, including the following:

  • Career and Technical Education – we will detail how local school districts are defining and providing career and technical education (CTE) and assess the programmatic elements and performance of those efforts in light of the increased importance being placed on CTE by policymakers and business leaders.
  • Last Mile Transit – we are following up on two previous reports that explored how improved transit might better connect central city residents to suburban job sites with a report on potential solutions to the “last mile" challenge, which refers to the need to develop strategies to efficiently transport workers from suburban bus stops to their dispersed job locations.
  • Water and Sewer Infrastructure – the second installment in our multi-part series of reports assessing the condition and funding requirements of local infrastructure will focus on the capital needs and related financial challenges of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, as well as City of Milwaukee sewer lines and Milwaukee Water Works pipes and laterals.
  • City of Milwaukee Revenue Structure – the sequel to our 2016 City of Milwaukee fiscal assessment is a report that will explore why Milwaukee has such a distinctive revenue structure (characterized by heavy reliance on state aids and few local taxing options) and what City finances would look like if we adopted the structures used by other peer cities.

This list comprises just a small portion of our complete 2017 research agenda, which also includes multiple shared services projects, a report from our 2016-17 Gill Fellow on Business Improvement Districts in Metro Milwaukee, and our annual MPS, City, and County budget briefs. If you have any ideas for Forum research and activities, we're always eager to hear from you. I hope to see you at our annual meeting on January 11!

Rob Henken