Barrett Introduces Difficult 2018 Budget
Budget would raise taxes, cut public safety to grapple with state shared revenue reduction.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett formally introduced his 2018 budget proposal for the city of Milwaukee Tuesday morning. Speaking before the Common Council, the mayor noted the budget “is not the budget I was hoping introduce.” The Mayor noted “for 13 years we have cut, squeezed and reconfigured operations to maintain our shared priorities.”
The mayor, after stating that this was the most difficult budget his office has had to prepare, reiterated his recent campaign around “the Milwaukee dividend.” He noted that while state revenue has seen a 59 percent increase in the past 14 years in a row, the city continues to receive less back from the state than it contributes. The gap, which has grown tremendously in recent years, now leaves the city short tens of millions of dollars a year in revenue it previously received as part of the state shared revenue formula. The state shared revenue formula is used to return income and sales taxes collected by the state to the municipalities in which they’re generated.
The budget, which reduces the number of police officers by 33 and fire fighters by 75, would not result in any layoffs. Illustrating the stark challenges the city faces in funding its public safety needs, the mayor’s budget anticipates raising $273.5 million from the property tax levy, while spending $293.4 million directly on the Milwaukee Police Department. The Milwaukee Police Department currently has a sworn strength of 1,888.
The average residential property owner will see an increase of $48 or 3.1 percent under the proposed budget. In his budget address, the mayor noted that he anticipates Milwaukee Public Schools partially offsetting that with a tax rate reduction.
The mayor noted that he is proposing a referendum on enacting a half-percent public safety sales tax which could raise $35 million annually. The funds generated from that tax would offset the rising costs of public safety and allow the city to avoid reducing the number of sworn officers. The sales tax even getting to referendum is a long shot, with the state government needing to enact any new sales taxes.
Acknowledging that the budget will draw opposition, Barrett stated “Inevitably, critics will say ‘make cuts in other places.’ I want you to know, during my time as Mayor, we’ve reduced the number of workers in the general city workforce by nearly 300 positions. We’ve saved tens of millions of dollars in health care costs and dramatically reduced worker injuries and responsibly managed our borrowing costs.” For those wondering about streetcar operations, the 2018 budget does not include substantial funding for operating the streetcar.
Barrett’s proposal doesn’t balance the budget on borrowing. His proposal includes a $12.7 million reduction in annual borrowing, down to $76 million annually.
The council will now begin the process of analyzing and modifying the budget. In the coming months the council will adopt a final budget and send it to Barrett for his signature. The mayor retains the power to veto certain provisions of the budget, but don’t expect anything like the 99 vetoes recently issued by Governor Scott Walker.
For more information on the mayor’s proposed budget, including his plans for lead lateral replacement and a violence interruption program known as “Ceasefire,” see his full remarks.
New City Budget Director
Of note for budget deliberations, shortly after Barrett introduced the budget the Common Council approved a new city budget director. Barrett nominated Dennis Yaccarino to replace the recently retired and widely respected Mark Nicolini.
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