A Functioning Democracy
December 20, 2010 8:17 AM
This is the time of year when I give some thought to the year in review. And it just happened that I was thinking about that as the Legislature struggled to approve state employee contracts. The contrast in how the city and state governments function made me feel pretty good about Madison.
The City Council and I accomplished a lot this year, but there were four high profile issues. When negotiations on the new Central Library broke down early in the year, we changed directions to build a new library using the existing infrastructure. In just a few weeks the pivot to a new direction was in place, and the library remains on time and on budget with beautiful new plans unveiled last week. Then in May we passed no less than five approvals needed for the Edgewater Hotel. Sure, it was a longer and more winding process than I would have liked, but we got it done in the end. In November, we passed an honestly balanced budget not only on time but a day early. Finally, just last week we resolved the Overture issue in time to meet the end of the year deadline for extinguishing the debt that had been set by the banks.
And there's a sequel to that last story. The most committed opponent of the Overture agreement was Alder Chris Schmidt. Yet, Chris showed up the next day for a press conference to celebrate that accomplishment. He was there to say that while he had opposed it, now that the agreement had passed, he was going to do everything in his power to help make it work. That's the kind of public spirited-ness that we need more of everywhere.
Contrast all that with the recent spectacle at the Capitol over perfectly reasonable contracts with state worker unions. These contracts call for workers to share in the pain of the state budget with unpaid furloughs that amount to a pay cut and with larger contributions to their health insurance premiums. It's amazing to me that the governor-elect is using the contracts and the workers covered by them as a political football, and it's hard to understand what motivated the Senate Majority Leader to join in that game. It's a mess.
A year ago, I ruffled some feathers by referring to our development review process as "broken." I still believe it needs improvement, and we're hard at work on that. But after a year of progress on so many tough, complicated local issues, I have to temper those comments. Especially when you compare Madison city government to what's happening down the street, we look pretty darn good.