State Republican Lawmakers Oppose Barrett’s Budget
Seven Republicans take aim at proposal to reduce police staffing, but don't mention sales tax request.
A joint letter sent to the Milwaukee Common Council by seven Republican lawmakers opposes Mayor Tom Barrett‘s budget proposal to reduce the number of Milwaukee Police Department officers, but does not address Barrett’s pitch for a state-authorized sales tax to fund public safety.
“We were shocked to discover that the proposed budget will reduce the Milwaukee Police Force by three percent, eliminating approximately 60 officers from the department,” reads the letter signed by Representatives Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin), Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego), Rob Hutton (B-Brookfield), Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) and Jim Ott (R-Mequon) as well as Senator Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield).
“Our brave police officers already suffer from a lack of resources and this will only make their life-saving work more difficult,” says the letter.
Brandtjen, Kuglitsch, Hutton, and Kooyenga’s districts each include a small sliver of the City of Milwaukee. None of the letter signers live in Milwaukee.
The letter also repeats the opposition to the budget from the Milwaukee Police Association. The union has established considerable clout with Republicans in the Wisconsin State Legislature. Act 10, the controversial policy enacted by Governor Scott Walker in 2011, exempted public safety employees. Approximately 80 percent of the city’s $70 million pension contribution this year will go towards public safety employees and the amount spent on police salaries is planned to grow next year while the number of officers declines due to the union’s contract with the city.
“We have to face a practical reality, that for the fifth consecutive year, the budget for the police department exceeds the entire property tax levy for the city,” said Barrett in his September 24th budget address. “Police and fire costs are the areas where we’ve seen the biggest increases. Next year, the increase in the police and fire budgets are larger than all other city departments combined. We have little control of that because of current state law.”
“We have to have an additional tool to let us help ourselves,” said Barrett about the one percent sales tax effort introduced in early September. That tax would be shared with Milwaukee County and all 19 county municipalities. Each entity would be required to allocate 25 percent towards property tax relief.
Barrett pledged, as reported by Urban Milwaukee on September 9th nearly a month before the state letter, that he would use proceeds from the sales tax to reverse cuts to the police department, invest in equipment for the fire department and fix the city’s aging streets.
But the proposed sales tax, which would require authorization from the state before Milwaukee County residents would vote in a binding referendum on its enactment, was not addressed in the letter.
Beyond the growing cost of public safety, the city faces declining state support in the form of returned income and sales tax dollars. A city report notes that if the city received its 2003 allotment of shared revenue adjusted for inflation it would have received $333.9 million in 2018; instead it received $228.2 million, an effective annual loss of $105.7 million. Over the same time, annual state spending has increased by $7 billion.
The proposed cut does not include any layoffs. “We are not laying any officers off,” said Barrett of the service reduction. Similar to a 2018 cut, the budget would reduce sworn strength through not replacing retirees.
In his budget address, Barrett praised the work of city employees and noted that the number of homicides, not-fatal shootings and robberies are down.
Barrett’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.
The proposed 2020 Milwaukee Police Department is approximately $300 million. The Common Council began its budget review process last week and will pass a final budget in November.
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Read more about 2020 Milwaukee Budget here