Mayors join forces regarding mortgage settlement spending plan

MILWAUKEE -- A group of mayors joined forces Wednesday with a message for the Walker administration -- give us a fair shake. They say Governor Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's decision to use some of the mortgage settlement money to balance the state budget is not only wrong, but won't solve the problem.

Racine Mayor John Dickert, Oak Creek's mayor and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett hope their message is clear. They say there have been 35 foreclosures per year in Racine, 415 last year, 226 foreclosures in Oak Creek since 2007 and 4,800 abandoned homes in Milwaukee. In addition to families who have been personally affected, it is local governments that are dealing with the direct impact of the foreclosure crisis. "To demolish these homes, which is cheaper than rehabilitating them, is $10,000 a home, so that's $48 million just for the city of Milwaukee," Mayor Barrett said.

Wisconsin's portion of the settlement is about $140 million. Over $31 million of it is discretionary state spending. The Walker administration is using over $25 million of it to balance the recently announced state budget shortfall.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen recently discussed this issue on FOX6 WakeUp. "Instead of having your buying power go down and have to further raise taxes, some of this money is going to help our state budget as well," Van Hollen said.

The mayors pointed to the actions being taken by the Republican governor and Attorney General in Ohio, where all of their settlement money is being used on foreclosure issues. "It's being distributed to deal with abandoned, vacant property demolition, and being distributed to deal with grant programs for families in Ohio," Mayor Barrett said.

More money for municipalities and families - the mayors argue that's the only way to truly fix the foreclosure problem. "Allowing us to recapture these houses, get them back on the market, get people in there, get construction people working, is a long-term solution, and that's the way we think as mayors," Mayor Dickert said.

In a statement Wednesday, Governor Walker's spokesperson pointed out that nearly 82 percent of the money will go directly to consumers who were the victims of abusive practices, and he said that using some of the money on the budget is acknowledging that the crisis has impacted all Wisconsin citizens.

Van Hollen's office declined to comment.