It’s that time of year and Wisconsin municipalities are putting together their budgets for the upcoming year. And as always, Milwaukee is struggling to meet their budgetary needs under the various restraints imposed on them by the Republicans in control of the state legislature and former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
The city is restricted in sources of additional revenue. There are very clear limits enacted by the state on property taxes that prevent the city’s ability to increase existing tax revenues. The state’s animosity toward the city has left the state’s shared revenues stagnant for a decade or so. So it’s no wonder that Milwaukee Mayor Barrett is having a tough time creating a city budget each year.
The City of Milwaukee isn’t the only area governmental body in the area feeling the same restraints. So Milwaukee County has put forward their Fair Deal project to add 1% to the county sales tax rate. These revenues would be used to reduce property taxes and provide revenues for the county and municipalities within Milwaukee County.
Counties can’t unilaterally raise their sales tax rates about the currently permitted 0.5%. So a countywide referendum is required…and that requires the state government to approve holding a referendum.
And that’s where Assembly Speaker Robin Vos pops up. He isn’t a fan of Milwaukee (County or City), isn’t a fan of Mayor Barrett, and certainly isn’t a fan of public transportation…particularly Milwaukee’s initial foray into street cars (the state passed laws preventing Milwaukee County from working with the city on funding the street car and prohibits the street car from servicing any areas outside the city).
So it comes as no surprise that Rep. Vos hates the Milwaukee budget and thinks that we have our priorities screwed up.
Vos’ comments come in the midst of deliberations over next year’s city budget —including Barrett’s proposal to cut 60 police officer positions through attrition — and as Milwaukee-area leaders are lobbying state legislators to allow a binding referendum on raising the county sales tax to 1.5% from 0.5%. Portions of the revenue would be dedicated to property tax relief and the county’s municipalities.
“I think that makes a lot of us say, well maybe your priorities aren’t in line if you think the most important thing for your city is a streetcar to nowhere versus having police officers on the street, knowing that we have guns that are on the street, knowing that we have crime that is impacting an awful lot of families,” Vos told Benson.
Vos said he respects that the city has budget problems and is willing to discuss those but that Barrett needs to convincingly make the case that the city is spending wisely.
A couple of things…I am not happy about a reduction in Milwaukee’s police force. But I get it…and I will support a sales tax increase if it ever comes to a vote.
But as far as Rep. Vos’ issues with safety on city streets? He can do a lot to help with that.
FIRST: he can increase state shared revenues with the City of Milwaukee…the taxes Milwaukee sends to Madison continues to increase with the healthier economy while as we stated earlier…the revenue currently sent back from Madison has remained stagnant. Milwaukee seems to be subsidizing the out state areas. But as Assembly Speaker, Rep. Vos would have a lot of pull in adequately funding the city. How about that?
SECOND: Rep. Vos and his co-conspirator State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have continued to resist passing even sensible and very popular gun control legislation. If he is worried about gun violence in Milwaukee, he remains one of the contributing factors.
THIRD: he can abandon the GOP’s continued opposition to a street car or other modes of public transportation. There isn’t a mode of any form of transportation that isn’t subsidized at some level in this country. And in calling it a streetcar to nowhere is just playing to his base…he certainly understands that no transportation system is born fully formed from the head of Zeus.
FOURTH: He is willing to give the mayor an audience with the powers that be in Madison. I don’t hold much hope for that but it feels like its more than he’s willing to do for Governor Evers at this point.
Vos said he met with Barrett on Oct. 9 and has asked him to speak with a group of Assembly Republicans.
Barrett told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Friday that after watching the interview he came away with an appreciation that he will have an opportunity to meet with Republicans to explain the city’s budget situation.
FIFTH: No matter what his personal thoughts on the county or municipal budgets anywhere in Milwaukee County, he shouldn’t stand in the way of a tax referendum. We the residents of Milwaukee County, as the taxpayers who elected our officials, should get to decide how we want to tax ourselves. He should support the referendum legislation and pass it through his chamber post haste.
So where am I going with this? Robin Vos has been instrumental in creating the tight budget issues for local governments through out the state. He needs to craft a remedy. Robin Vos is responsible for state budgets and indirectly county budgets, but he certainly doesn’t understand the needs and requirements in all areas of the state…nor the expectations of the residents. Locally, he should just butt out and let the voters decide on what they need, what they want, and how they want to pay for it.
So pass the damn legislation on time so the referendum can be held ASAP and Milwaukee County can say for itself: Whither Goes Milwaukee County!