County Executive Chris Abele
Op Ed

Why I Support A $60 Vehicle Registration Fee

Without new revenue Milwaukee County will be forced to make significant service cuts.

By - Nov 2nd, 2017 02:32 pm

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by The original uploader was Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by The original uploader was Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Being a leader means doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. Perhaps nowhere is that more true than when it comes to public budgeting.

A lot of people are counting on us to get this right, whether it’s the job seeker on the north side who needs the County’s UpLift MKE job training program, the business owner in Oak Creek who knows her employees need reliable transportation on our buses, or the grandparents in Wauwatosa who take the little ones to see the sea lion show at the Zoo every spring.

Milwaukee County’s budget process is no small undertaking — the County’s $1 billion budget maintains critical services and infrastructure for one million County residents. This is a full 12-month process every year for our budget professionals and County leaders as they work to find the right combination of creative new revenue streams, expense reductions, and cost-saving efficiencies that will lead to a responsible, balanced budget.

As my office engaged with the community over the summer to gather their input on the budget, I heard people say they wanted to see this kind of balanced approach between revenue increases and expense reductions. I agreed, which is why I proposed a balanced budget that included $30.8 million in new revenue and $30.4 million in total efficiencies and expense reductions — nearly an exact 50/50 split. That new revenue included the difficult, but necessary, decision to propose a $60 vehicle registration fee, the same level of funding I proposed last year. As I have warned for more than a year, and as independent fiscal analysts have confirmed repeatedly, the County cannot maintain our current levels of service without new revenue.

At the same time, I understand that any increase in fees can be difficult to absorb. That is why I am supporting Rep. David Bowen’s proposal that would give localities the flexibility to assess the wheel tax more equitably. Even before I first proposed a vehicle registration fee in last year’s County budget, I have been outspoken about making fees and taxes more progressive so that our most vulnerable residents are not disproportionately impacted.

I look forward to seeing this proposal gain more support in the legislature and around the state, as other localities are increasingly turning to the wheel tax to generate needed revenue. In Milwaukee County, it is clear that the progressive and responsible approach to balancing our budget is to sustainably increase revenue so that critical services are not at risk.

County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb has rejected this balanced proposal and instead is demanding $15 million in deep service cuts. Some of these cuts include, unfortunately, deep reductions for transit, the elimination of the successful UpLift MKE program that provides job training and placement in 53206, the closure of the Schulz Aquatic Center and Sea Lion show at the Zoo, the cancellation of important road improvements, cuts to public safety funding for the medical examiner, paramedic training, the district attorney, sheriff, and house of correction, and cuts to social service funding that supports our most vulnerable residents.

I am vehemently opposed to the deep service cuts that were demanded by the chairman, because they will hurt the most vulnerable among us, diminish quality of life for our residents, and hamstring the County’s ability to grow and succeed.

By Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

17 thoughts on “Op Ed: Why I Support A $60 Vehicle Registration Fee”

  1. Jason Troll says:

    Chris ever thought about eliminating health insurance perks for employees that no longer work for the County, or the vacation perks, my understanding is you can a mass seven weeks of vacation and this does not include holidays, sick days and personal days. Have you ever thought about asking employees to share more of the health care burdens that most citizens of Milwaukee experience. Chris, I side with Theo. How stupid do you think these County Supervisors are as you march them in front of the firing squad. Heads will roll if the board sides with your silliness. Make your cuts and go back to your house in the sky, little man.

  2. Steve says:

    Thank goodness I paid off my house!If the county passes this 60 dollar wheel tax,I am moving out of Milwaukee County!

  3. Mike says:

    I’ve read through the 2018 budget. I’m not sure why the county is projecting a 44% drop in sales tax revenue. Seems like the 30M is there, if needed.

  4. Steve says:

    I understand that those who cannot afford a car or are visually impaired like my late Father need the bus to get around but how much revenue is the MCTS losing over those not paying the fare or stealing bus rides?I have been hearing these stories about drivers being physically being threatened.

  5. Wayne says:

    I support the additional $30 wheel tax. It comes down to $2.50 a month. It keeps Milwaukee County moving forward by not decimating our county parks and public transportation. Those things are quality of life things that help recruit new business and workers to MKE. I’m more concerned about the new tax cut proposed by Ryan. My rough calculations have me paying $4200 more in taxes. That’s $350 a month more for me, not $2.50.

  6. Considine says:

    Jason, the County no longer provides health insurance for retirees and employees are not entitled to carry over more than 40 hours of vacation annually.

  7. Tim says:

    Steve, if someone threatens a driver… why wouldn’t a driver report it? They let the person on for free, into the bus with cameras identifying them. Then the driver continues to drive, radios in the problem & the person gets arrested about a mile down the road.

    It just seems like facebook hearsay to me…

  8. Ed Werstein says:

    The vehicle tax should be graduated upward from a base of $30. Why should a poor person driving a beater to two part-time jobs pay $60, the same as someone driving an Escalade or a Lincoln?

  9. happyjack27 says:

    Steve I’m not seeing any value from your comment. It reads like two or even three incomplete appeals to emotion juxtaposed.

    Are people stealing bus fares? I don’t know have you stopped bearing your wife?

    Is the bus making revenue? I don’t know is McDonald’s meeting expectations this quarter?

    Also is this guy sitting next to me named Phil? Or bob? And how many jelly beans are in this jar?

    Oh, and there are assholes in Milwaukee who physically threaten anyone even bus drivers. Did you know that? Also, there are hats. Like hats are a thing – some people sometimes wear stuff on their head. Also did you know there are 7 days in a week?

  10. .4 Tax Equity says:

    Mike, good sleuthing.

    Barring an economic depression, sales tax revenue will NOT suddenly drop by nearly half. Sounds like Chris Abele is building a case by fudging the numbers, or just plain lies.

    Not a way to build public trust.

  11. Mike says:

    @jeramey interesting. I was looking at page 24 of the budget summary.

  12. What is the URL to the document? I am not seeing it in the requested 2018 budget summary and don’t see a summary document for the 2018 recommended budget.

  13. I believe that’s a quirk in how the budget request process works (which is a collection of department requests and not the end vision of the executive’s office.)

    If you look at 2017, you will see the same thing play out. A massive increase in the property tax levy and a decrease in requested sales tax revenue. To balance the budget and stay within state levy limits, the executive’s recommended budget uses the full sales tax anticipated amount and cuts the property tax levy to a legal amount.

  14. Jason troll says:

    Consindine, if your a new employee that is true but if you have 20+ years in you are not correct.

  15. Considine says:

    Yes, but the health benefits are most likely a property right for those older retirees. I support cutting those generous benefits off, but that’s going to wind up in court in two seconds

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