By LaKeshia N. Myers
Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the largest and most racially diverse city in the state of Wisconsin. Comprised of nearly 600,000 residents, the City of Milwaukee and the surrounding 18 municipalities that make up Milwaukee County collectively supply the State of Wisconsin with the bulk of its operating revenue. This translates to more than $569 million Milwaukee County taxpayers sent to the state in 2018 than they did in 2009. In contrast, the state returned $144 million less to Milwaukee County in 2017 than it did in 2009. To put it plainly, the Republican-controlled state legislature uses Milwaukee County as the state’s personal ATM; and I’m sick of it – you should be too.
As the largest city (and in turn the most populous county), Milwaukee picks up the tab for the rest of the state, but has been starved fiscally for years. Having to cut services at both the municipal and county levels just to make ends meet. This crisis was only compounded by COVID-19, which forced senior centers, parks and other attractions to close; stifling regular programming and otherwise lucrative fundraising opportunities for the county. Understanding these things, one can only imagine why Republicans in the state legislature consistently choose to bite the hand that feeds them.
Last week, the legislature voted on a bill that would decrease funding to municipalities that decreased budget allocations for police. This had been dubbed the “defund the police” bill by conservatives. When debate began on the floor, I was sickened that Republican legislators repeatedly disparaged Milwaukee—painting a picture that equated the city and county as a collective cesspool, fraught with crime and destruction. What was described was equal parts Sodom & Gomorrah sprinkled with the violent backdrop of wartime Iraq.
It was wholly inaccurate and further acknowledged the fact that the majority of my colleagues have never been to Milwaukee, but base these opinions on the few salacious headlines they’ve read. It also proves my suspicion that they have an underlying fear of the city and county’s diverse population makeup, using skewed police data to ratchet up the fears of their base.
What is true, is that the City of Milwaukee budgets 46% of its entire budget to police. This equals $294 million, the bulk of which is spent on paying the pensions of retired officers. Also true, is the fact that Milwaukee lost 120 police officers—these positions were lost to attrition (officer retirements that will go unfilled). Milwaukee didn’t “defund the police”—we’re just busy paying for the ones that have left the force (and paying millions of dollars in settlements for the ones who continue to go rogue).
What is interesting to me is that in all of the floor speeches given last week, not one GOP representative discussed overall public safety. There was no mention of firefighters.
While Milwaukee’s police budget has continued to rise, the city has also closed several firehouses. There was no mention of how poor policing has impacted the budget or the relations between community members. No thoughts shared about reinvesting in community programming and deterring deleterious behavior. Instead of using crime as a fearmongering tactic to score political points, I urge my colleagues to take Ice Cube’s advice and check themselves before they wreck themselves. If Milwaukee doesn’t survive, neither does the State of Wisconsin and that’s no way to treat people who pay the bulk of your bills.