Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Barrett Sells Milwaukee to GOP

City has reinvented itself, deserves greater investment from state, he argues.

By - Mar 20th, 2017 11:56 am
Mayor Tom Barrett speaking at the groundbreaking for the Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Tom Barrett speaking at the groundbreaking for the Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

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.

Last Tuesday, Walker told a Milwaukee Rotary meeting that his state budget would move the city “forward.”

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.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at

7 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Barrett Sells Milwaukee to GOP”

  1. Jason says:

    I am still trying to figuring out how there is a Milwaukee dividend as we send more African American men to prison cells from Milwaukee to state run prison facilities. Madison should give Barrett more money when he accepts responsibility for Criminal storage units in Milwaukee. Republicans and Independents would take Democrats more seriously, if Democrats would demand audits of money they receive and dole out to local poverty groups. Instead they tend to protect their friends.

  2. Tim says:

    Jason, if you want to play that game… then why aren’t the prisons built in Milwaukee? Oh yeah, because the GOP is throwing prison jobs at their base.

    It is a wonder that the Milwaukee PD sends so many people to be locked up. It’s almost like the state of WI should be doing more to prevent that, since they end up paying. What hasn’t Walker done anything about that?

    Now, there are many black men going to jail. In fact, WI is incarcerating the highest percentage of black males age 18-64 in the country. IN THE COUNTRY. Do we just have a more violent black population here? Not just more violent but the MOST VIOLENT IN THE COUNTRY?

    Since rhetorical questions are dead, the answer is NO. What is WI doing that we lock up so many black males? Why hasn’t Walker & his GOP majority done anything?

  3. Justin says:

    Tim’s point actually drives a pretty fascinating subject. For his insinuation to be true, it would mean that MKE judges would have to be in the tank for the GOP as they are determining the sentences. The MKE bench is known to be fairly liberal, so it wouldn’t seem that they would be incarcerating to support Walker. Milwaukee is also known to be soft on crime, so what is driving the high black incarceration rate?

  4. Tim says:

    Or maybe your insinuation of “liberal” judges in Milwaukee is false & “truth-in-sentencing” doesn’t give judges much leeway anyway.

    Let me google that for you:

  5. Tom T. says:

    Jason…. do you think it’s by accident that just about all African Americans in the state live in Milwaukee? You should read up on housing discrimination and redlining that took place in the 60s and 70s. In addition, Milwaukee shoulders the burden of 75% of SE Wisconsin’s poor. Its easy to draw a circle around your perfect lily white suburb then point fingers and judge others. Milwaukee does pretty well given the daunting demographics it faces. No thanks to the region or state.

  6. Virginia says:

    Jason, Tim, et al,

    The Prison Industrial Complex is indeed alive and well in Wisconsin, even its dynamics may be too complex to spell out in a few words.

    We funneling more taxpayer funding into prisons than education. That’s probably not by accident.

  7. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Milwaukee has enormous problems that have to be solved by Milwaukee not the state by more money.
    leading experts of police problems, in Milwaukee ,claim that we do not need more laws, more cops, more money but the Barrett/Chisholm/Kremers/ Flynn gabble of blowhards with their “Catch and release program, on crime is the problem.” only about 6% of the gun wielding thugs, of all colors ever end up in jail.
    Then we add the corruption, the top ten worst management in country, exploding crime, car jackings, car thefts,bad roads, human trafficking, heroin epidemic, poverty, youth unemployment, inept Milwaukee county and on and on.
    The problems will not be solved by more money for bigger salaries and bennies, but by new people.
    Let Clarke, Frankovis run police dept and the problems will be quickly solved.

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