By Karen Stokes
Governor Tony Evers, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have announced a bipartisan deal to increase shared revenue for communities statewide and provide a revenue generation tool for Milwaukee County’s unique financial challenges.
Milwaukee County is in a serious financial crisis, as shown by its recent five-year financial forecast. The projected budget shortfall is even greater than expected, and this raises concerns about how to fix the problem without making significant changes at the state level.
In a statement from Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley on the historic local revenue reform deal: “Milwaukee County has unique financial challenges that other communities across the state don’t have in terms of scale, cost, or impact across the state. I am grateful for the Governor and leadership in both the Senate and Assembly for learning about our challenges, understanding the devastating impact that would have on our residents, and working diligently with Milwaukee County to identify tools to address them.”
To overcome this financial crisis, Milwaukee County must explore potential solutions and alternatives.
In the agreement, the city and county’s local governing boards have the option to authorize a sales tax increase with a two-thirds majority vote. Notably, Milwaukee is the only city of its size in the country that has been restricted from implementing its own sales tax.
To fund around $1.6 billion in aid to local governments, also known as shared revenue, 20% of the state’s 5-cent sales tax would be utilized. As sales tax revenue rises, the amount of assistance provided would also grow accordingly.
“When you work on a bill as historic and far-reaching as this one not everyone will get everything on their wish list. Nevertheless, this deal helps our organization avoid the single biggest threat to achieving its goals and sets our region up for long-term success,” Crowley said.
“There are aspects to this legislation that I strongly object to,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson. “However, through the give-and-take, no party to these negotiations is completely satisfied with the final product.”
“Anyone who wants to see Milwaukee County avoid the reported service cuts or staff reductions and continue its journey to achieve race and health equity should support this deal,” Crowley said.
“Ultimately, I look forward to signing the appropriate city ordinance to move this forward so that Milwaukee can improve public safety services, fire department response times, and innovative library services for all our residents,” Mayor Johnson said.
The bill cleared its last legislative hurdles Wednesday evening. The Assembly passed it 56-36, with all Republicans in support except for three who joined all Democrats in opposing it.