By Milwaukee Courier Staff
Local Milwaukee legislators testified in front of the State Assembly Ways and Means committee this week to make the case for why the State Legislature should give Milwaukee County voters the power to decide if Milwaukee County should increase its sales tax by 1% to provide property tax relief, while adequately funding public services, maintaining facilities, and investing in the future through a binding referendum process.
This effort was started last year by County Executive Chris Abele and the Milwaukee County Board with the goal of providing property tax relief and providing additional revenue to combat Milwaukee County’s ongoing budget deficit. For the last 10 years, Milwaukee County has been consistently forced to make nearly $25 million dollars annually in cuts. Over the past year, support for the sales tax among local elected officials has grown substantially and is now universally accepted as the best way to move the county forward.
Currently, Wisconsin municipalities have the seventh highest reliance on property taxes in the country.
In contrast, they rank 43rd for reliance on municipal sales taxes.
By increasing the sales tax, Milwaukee County would be able to capture tax revenue from the tens of thousands of people that work in Milwaukee County, but pay their income and property taxes in other suburban counties, primarily Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington. These workers use county and city resources without contributing anything back to maintaining those services.
It is also important to note that most necessities, such as food or medicine, would not be affected by a sales tax increase because they are already exempt from sales taxes.
During Thursday’s testimony, Milwaukee Democratic legislators used their testimony to discuss the legalese and technical aspects of the proposal, however, Rep. David Crowley, chair of the Assembly’s Milwaukee Delegation and current candidate for Milwaukee County Executive, instead chose to discuss what the additional resources would do for the people of Milwaukee County.
“This tool change will allow us to invest in essential services, while providing property tax relief to our residents” said Crowley. “It would help fund the transit system, it would help fund Health and Human Services, and it would help in all of other critical operations such as the court system, roads, parks, capital projects, and emergency services – the list is virtually endless.”
“These functions and services of county government are essential facets of life for so many of our residents, and we have the opportunity to ensure that we can invest in these services while also providing property tax relief. It is the definition of a win-win.”
While support for the sales tax increase has grown substantially here in Milwaukee County, the Wisconsin State Assembly has seemed reluctant to move on the issue. Crowley, chair of the Milwaukee Delegation and a candidate for Milwaukee County Executive, attributes this resistance at the state level to the fact that Milwaukee County is taking the wrong approach.
“As long as we continue to talk about this problem as just a Milwaukee County issue, we aren’t going to make and progress with the state legislature,” said Crowley. “Of course, we need additional revenues, but there is a bigger problem. We have to take a hard look at how Wisconsin funds all of its local governments.”
A large part of Crowley’s campaign for County Executive has been what he refers to as “bridge building”. Crowley has continually emphasized the importance of Milwaukee County working with other counties from across Wisconsin to take their collective needs to the state.
“This isn’t just a Milwaukee County problem. This is a problem for every community across the state. We need to all work together to take our problems to the state. As long as this is just Milwaukee’s problem, it’s too easy for the Legislature to just dismiss us,” Crowley concluded.
Crowley has talked about this 72-county strategy at nearly every public campaign appearance he has made for the last several months.