Public Policy Forum Blog

4th Quarter President's Message

With the close of another year, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the Forum's research accomplishments in 2015 and preview some of the topics we'll be pursuing in the new year.

In terms of research volume, the past year was an unqualified success. We published 21 reports, which is one of our highest totals in recent memory.

But while volume is nice, quality and impact are even more important, as emphasized in our 2014 strategic plan. On those fronts, we also feel very good about the past year. Our impact has been demonstrated in various ways, including the following:

  • Heeding some of the primary findings in our recent transit research, Milwaukee County is exploring a new bus rapid transit service that would connect Downtown Milwaukee and the Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa, and is implementing a new express route that will bring central city residents to employers in Ozaukee County and Oak Creek.
  • Consistent with a finding in our report on municipal marijuana policy, the Milwaukee Common Council made a subtle but important change to City ordinances that allows the City to make greater use of municipal citations for second and subsequent small-scale possession offenses.
  • Our analysis of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division's finances found that the division was achieving limited savings from inpatient and long-term care downsizing, in part because of the County's mechanism for distributing overhead costs to departments. Changes made in the 2016 budget address that issue, freeing up additional resources for BHD to invest in community-based services.  

Research quality is harder to gauge, but we attempt to do so by tracking page views on our website for each of our research projects, as well as presentations to government and civic bodies (our thinking is that only quality research will attract people to our website and merit speaking invitations). We also ask our members to fill out a year-end survey evaluating our research quality – the 2015 version will be e-mailed soon.

Looking ahead to 2016, we are already hard at work on several important projects that will be released in the first six months of the year, including the following:

  • Milwaukee Educator Series – in 2015, we published a pair of reports that assessed the characteristics of teachers and school leaders in the four-county Metro Milwaukee region. The third report in our series – which we hope to release early in 2016 – will inform policymakers on the dimensions of a possible teacher shortage in Metro Milwaukee and how we should respond.
  • Marijuana in Milwaukee – in the second installment of our research on municipal marijuana policy, we will seek to quantify the volume of arrests being made in the City of Milwaukee for small-scale marijuana possession and the resources being spent to accommodate those arrests. We will then explore possible policy changes that might be warranted to redirect resources without sacrificing public safety. We hope to release this report in the first quarter of 2016.
  • Community Participation – a recently-initiated project is exploring the purpose and effectiveness of existing programs within the City of Milwaukee that seek to link public expenditures to jobs for city residents; assess how those programs compare and relate to similar programs within Milwaukee County, MPS, and MMSD; and shed light on best practices from other metro regions and how those might be applicable to our region. We hope to release the report in the spring.
  • MPS, City of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee County Service Sharing – in our latest research effort related to intergovernmental service sharing, we're analyzing existing service sharing arrangements between the Milwaukee Public Schools and both the City and County, and exploring how those might be enhanced or modified to produce additional efficiencies and free up resources for direct services. We're also investigating whether new service sharing opportunities might exist in areas like recreation and facilities maintenance. We hope to release this report in the spring, as well.
  • Local Infrastructure – we recently launched a comprehensive research project that will inventory the infrastructure challenges facing the County, City, and MMSD, and assess the region’s financial capacity to address those challenges. This project will build off our needs assessment of the County’s cultural assets and use national metrics to assess where we stand in properly taking care of our publicly-owned roads, bridges, sewer mains, structures, etc. We envision a series of reports, the first of which we hope to release by late spring.

This list is just a subset of our complete agenda, which also includes additional education research, a report from our 2015-16 Gill Fellow on policy initiatives to combat obesity, 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 13!

Rob Henken