After his efforts to reform the Milwaukee County Board failed when he was a supervisor, a Republican legislator cleared the first step Thursday in cutting the board supervisors’ term length and pay.

In a 6-3 vote, a state Assembly committee approved the bill that would cut the term length to two years and cut supervisor salary and hours by about half, the latter needing voter approval in a referendum. The bill, introduced by former county supervisor Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, faced criticisms from the three Democrats on the committee.

Much of the Democratic criticisms were directed to County Executive Chris Abele, who supports the bill. In the officially nonpartisan 2011 election, the union-backed Abele ran against a Republican lawmaker.

Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, criticized Abele for not being “happy getting his way 98 percent of the time.”

“The county executive is acting like a child,” Hulsey said, calling the bill a “power grab” by giving more power to the county executive and taking power away from the board.

In a statement after the vote, Abele praised the committee for approving the bill.

Republicans noted the importance of passing the legislation, as they said the board will not make the reforms by itself.

“The county is not dysfunctional because of state involvement,” Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said. “The state needs to get involved because it is so dysfunctional.”

Gov. Scott Walker, who was the Milwaukee County supervisor before getting elected, announced his support for the bill in a statement yesterday.

He said he had supported moving the board to part time during his 2002 race, as Milwaukee County is the only county in Wisconsin that has a full-time board.

“The voters in Milwaukee County deserve a chance to have a vote on the matter,” Walker said. “I encourage lawmakers to pass legislation that will give them that opportunity.”

Rep. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, said the board and county executive should have six months to “cool off” and try to sort the dispute out themselves.

However, Republicans like Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, disagreed.

“I think it’s wise to keep the heat on and go forward,” Knodl said. 

The bill was amended to reflect that it could only apply to counties that have 750,000 people or more, not 500,000 as was originally written, a number that is close to Dane County’s 2011 population of almost 496,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.