Barrett Sells Milwaukee to GOP
City has reinvented itself, deserves greater investment from state, he argues.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has a message about his city for Republicans who control the Capitol and the 2017-19 state budget. “We’ve reinvented ourselves,” Barrett said in a WisconsinEye interview last week. “We’d like some recognition. The new Milwaukee is not a drain on the state.”
In the early-1990s, Milwaukee legislators dominated the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC), which will begin voting on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2017-19 budget in May. Now, one Milwaukee Democrat – Sen. Lena Taylor – is a member of the 16-member JFC controlled by Republicans.
Milwaukee Democratic legislators “don’t have the political muscle” that they once did, said Barrett, a former lawmaker himself. That means that he and Democratic legislators must “educate the Republicans” about the new Milwaukee and the importance of the next state budget to the city. Milwaukee’s Democratic legislators have so far said nothing good about Walker’s proposed budget, however.
On Wednesday, Barrett said his city is in the middle of an economic development boom and offered this way to measure Milwaukee’s value to the state:
State Department of Revenue figures show that, between 2009 and 2015, Milwaukee residents and businesses sent $460 million more per year in taxes and other payments to state government than it got back in state aid. That’s a “Milwaukee dividend” the city pays state government that Walker and Republican legislators should reward in the 2017-19 state budget.
What’s Barrett’s top priority for that next state budget? Public safety.
State shared-revenue aid for all local governments has been frozen for years, and Walker’s budget continues that freeze. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says Milwaukee gets $217.5 million in shared-revenue aid each year, or 28 percent of payments that total $753.1 million.
About one in 10 Wisconsin residents live in Milwaukee. But the city still has great poverty: Milwaukee also has 72 percent of all low-income residents in southeast Wisconsin – a key reason why state aid should be increased, Barrett noted.
The mayor pointed to the cost of public safety for the city. The annual budget of the Milwaukee Police Department is $302 million, not including pension payments. That means keeping Milwaukee safe costs more than what the city receives in state aid or the city’s annual property tax levy of $263 million, Barrett said.
“We simply want to have that partnership strengthened between the city and the state,” Barrett said. “I’m not looking for any pity at all, because this city is doing very well.”
Other major Milwaukee decisions in the next state budget:
*More aid for MPS: Walker’s budget would boost K-12 spending by $200 per pupil in the year that begins on July 1, and by an additional $204 per pupil in the following year. Based on MPS enrollment numbers, that increase – if approved by Republican legislators – would be worth an additional $48 million to the state’s largest school district.
Barrett welcomed the additional state cash for MPS, saying Supt. Darienne Driver is right to ask for a longer school year and other changes to improve the district’s four-year graduation rate of about 57 percent.
*$26 million to buy Milwaukee County buses: Walker proposed advancing $26 million from the national Volkswagen vehicle-emissions scandal settlement to help Milwaukee County replace its oldest, least fuel efficient buses. Milwaukee County would repay most of that by giving the state $1.95 million a year for 10 years.
One Milwaukee legislator said residents in the district of Democratic Rep. Leon Young have the highest bus ridership, using them to get to jobs, schools and medical appointments.
Barrett said the deal for the new buses that County Executive Chris Abele struck with Walker is “good for everybody.”
*UW-Milwaukee: Walker’s recommendations for new buildings included $128 million for the entire UW System, but UW-Milwaukee would get $85.7 million – or two-thirds – of that total. UW-Milwaukee would get a $52.2 million building on the site of a closed hospital and $33.5 million to rebuild Sandburg Hall.
*A $75-million new building: Walker’s budget would build a Southeast Wisconsin Law Enforcement Facility with a new crime lab and three regional offices. Walker aides say it will be built in Milwaukee or Waukesha County.
For dozens of reasons, including proximity to police, the crimes they are investigating and prosecutors, it should be built in Milwaukee, Barrett said. “We could give them a site … this afternoon.”