Jeramey Jannene

Groups Call For Defunding the Police To Solve Milwaukee Pension Crisis

Move would strip $78 million from MPD budget, leave others intact.

By - Oct 1st, 2021 05:46 pm
A Milwaukee Police Department officer enters a report into a laptop after a traffic stop. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A Milwaukee Police Department officer enters a report into a laptop after a traffic stop. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The African-American Roundtable and Liberate MKE have a plan to solve Milwaukee’s pension crisis: defund the police.

With the city needing to come up with at least an additional $75 million annually (effectively doubling its current contribution) starting in 2023, the organizations have identified where to find the money. A proportional cut, currently estimated at $78 million, would come from the approximately $295 million Milwaukee Police Department budget.

“The estimated unfunded liability and pension contribution can be entirely made up with a 26% reduction in police department spending alone,” says a new 13-page report from the partners.

The city has been staring down a fiscal cliff for a number of years. It cannot raise significant revenue from a new sales tax or increased property tax levy without state authorization and the state has cut the city’s shared revenue allocation by more than $100 million per year (adjusted for inflation) since 2003.

But the City of Milwaukee still has a looming need to fully fund its pension when a five-year smoothing formula is updated for 2023. The need for a funding surge is driven by declining returns and increasing costs, 80% of which now come from the city’s public safety employees.

City officials, including Mayor Tom Barrett and Council President Cavalier Johnson, have increasingly talked publicly of a need for state support in any solution. But the AART and Liberate MKE plan charts a path out of the crisis without raising any new revenue.

After vetting three other scenarios (cuts of 11.5% to every department, proportional cuts by pension liability incurred and protecting the police budget while cutting other departments 23%), the organizations arrived at a solution of cutting the police budget by $78 million.

It’s a position they’ve held since 2019, with a prior focus on using the resulting resources to fund public health and housing. Under the new proposal, the city’s fiscal shortfall would consume all of the savings for at least five years.

“For too long police have had a blank check and unlimited resources to arrest, harm, and kill people in our communities. Politicians continued to vote to hire more police, adding to the problem. Over the same period, we have seen divestments in public services that produce safety like housing and income support,” wrote co-authors Markasa Tucker-Harris and Devin Anderson.

The new proposal calls for focusing the city’s $394.2 million American Rescue Plan Act on housing and participatory budgeting. “Participatory budgeting gives power to residents to decide what they would like to see in their communities. Through this participatory process, residents would propose a project that they would like to see, and residents would vote,” says the report.

Using a calculated 2022 budget average per officer cost of $112,323, the authors estimate that 694 sworn officers would be cut under their proposal.

But a 2020 report concluded that because of the state-enabled union contract that covers rank-and-file police officers the number of officers cut would be far higher. In any layoff situation, the newest officers must be let go first. And because the newest officers make the least amount of money, more of them would have to go to satisfy the size of the cut.

The police department estimated a 10% cut in 2020 would have cut 375 officers from a roster of 1,804 sworn officers. The proposed 2022 cut from the partners is 26.4%.

What happens if the city does nothing? An April budget office report warned that one-sixth of the city workforce, including police, would need to be laid off by 2026 and more cuts would follow.

Barrett released his 2022 executive budget proposal last week. The first committee hearing on the proposal was held Friday. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday at 6:30 p.m.

“The 2022 Milwaukee budget, is in some ways, the calm before the storm,” said Barrett in releasing his plan. But the proposal, similar to those in recent years, calls for cutting 25 officers through attrition from the police department and increasing the size of the pension reserve fund. A restructuring of the police and fire departments to create a combined 911 call center is also proposed.

“We urge Milwaukee city leaders to invest in the programs that are certain to improve the quality of city living for everyone. This is the pathway that will allow Milwaukee to become the best version of itself. Milwaukee has everything it needs to be a vibrant, thriving city. We will get there by putting our shared resources toward programs that nourish residents’ mental, physical, and economic well-being. Let’s LiberateMKE!” says the report.

The organizations received support from Jared Knowles of Civilytics Consulting in its creation through the Borealis Communities Transforming Policing Fund.

A full copy of the report is available on Urban Milwaukee.

Categories: Politics, Public Safety

13 thoughts on “Groups Call For Defunding the Police To Solve Milwaukee Pension Crisis”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Here’s a simple way to cut Milwaukee’s fire and police budget by 50%.

    Eliminate the ridiculous “full retirement pension for cops and firefighters after 20 years of service benefit”.

    Put them behind a desk or on a city lawn mower if they can no longer fight fires and make arrests. Make them work to 65 like every other American.

    There are more than 20 occupations in the U.S. that are more dangerous than “police officer” and “fire fighter” and they are not allowed to retire with a 100% pension after 20 years of service… 95% of private sector employees no longer have pensions!!!

    List of dangerous jobs… – University of Delaware

    P.S. Most of the cops and firefighters on Milwaukee’s payroll no longer live in Milwaukee and they don’t give a damn about Milwaukee.

  2. Thomas Sepllman says:

    Good comment above The other is to BLAME the State and the Republicans for the limits on Property taxes If the State attempts to protect the Republican Cops then again it highlights the issues of who is causing the crisis.

    The other solution is to read Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk MD. While not a prescription having a discussion about the observations of each book and implementing those observations into programs will greatly reduce the murders in Milwaukee thereby reducing the need for the police. Will gladly share the rest of the story Call 414 403 1341 Tom Spellman

  3. exlibris says:

    I wish I would never hear the phrase “defund the police” again. If the intent is to provide training and support from related disciplines like psychology and social work, there must be a better way to say it. If it’s shifting responsibilities, the same. If it’s restructuring pension agreements, that’s something else. State-city revenue sharing is a bigger problem as posters have noted, but that affects all parts of the city budget, not just policing.

  4. RetiredResident says:

    NieWiederKrieg is either woefully ill-informed or a bald faced liar. The is NO full pension for fire and police at 20 years. Or any other city employee for that matter. A city employee earns a pension multiplier for each year of active service which varies by department. For example if the multiplier is 2.5 (2.5% of base pay) it will take that employee 40 years to retire at full pay (100 / 2.5 = 40). Having said that, Fire and Police (at least) are limited by City ordinance to a maximum pension of 90% regardless if one were work in excess of 36 years.

    NWK might be thinking of the military but they’re wrong about that too. 20 years earns a 50% pension, 30 = 75%, and again, it takes 40 years of active duty to achieve a 100% pension. Or at least it did when I served in the 1980s.

    Having been in the Navy, and retired from city employment, I – unlike NWK – know whence I speak.

  5. Thomas Sepllman says:

    Thanks for clarifying that

  6. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Can there be anything worse for Milwaukee’s pension budget crisis than police and fire department employees retiring with full benefits after only 20 years of service?


    Milwaukee allows rare ‘triple-dip’ in pension…

  7. GodzillakingMKE says:

    The fact that most white cops are white supremacists who take millions of my tax dollars out of the county to support the white supremacist Republicans as shock troops,, makes me want police and firefighter unions to be treated like any other public union.

  8. Ryan Cotic says:

    It sounds like mathematically that paying people pensions who no longer work for you anymore and will become unfeasible in the future. Therefore they should probably move to some type of a 401K like the rest of the world or pay the employees maybe 10% more and let them be in charge of their own retirement like everyone else. Obviously any business model that is paying people who no longer work for you as much as the current employees has no chance of success long term. I would assume that this is why pensions have disappeared everywhere else in the private sector?

  9. TransitRider says:

    Ryan, nobody’s pension is ever as much as their salary. A “100% pension” does NOT mean 100% of their salary; it means their pension payment is not reduced.

    Many pension payments ARE reduced, usually because you retire early (before, say, age 65), because your are married (to cover the cost of continuing to pay your surviving spouse), or because you didn’t work long enough.

    Pensions are similar to Social Security. If you were born in 1960 or later, you get your full (100%) Social Security benefit if you start collecting at age 67. This full benefit is sometimes called a “100% benefit”, but it is NEVER as much as you earned while you were working.

  10. NieWiederKrieg says:

    The picture of the motorcycle cop attached to this article is interesting…

    It looks like he’s calculating his pension benefit on that laptop computer and how many more weeks he has to work.

    P.S. Motorcycle cops who live in the City of Milwaukee should be equipped with brand new Harley Davidson motorcycles… Motorcycle cops who do not live in the city should be equipped with mini-bikes powered by 5 horsepower lawnmower engines. That’s one more way to save taxpayer money.

  11. RetiredResident says:

    Well, NWK’s second post established they are not uniformed, but instead has chosen to promulgate falsehoods. In addition to repeating the debunked claim of a full pension after 20 years, they then posted a link to an article from 2011 pointing to two dozen or so retirees collecting multiple city pensions. Had NWK bothered to read past the headline – or as is more likely simply hoped nobody else would – the article points out the practice was banned by City ordinance a decade ago. Furthermore, the State of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County, and City of Milwaukee pension systems are separate and unrelated entities.

    In addition to the myth of a 100% pension, another facet that is not well known is that as a matter of Federal policy, Fire and Police do not earn Social Security although they do convert to Medicare at age 65. (They are however eligible for SS based on wages from any jobs outside of their municipal employment.) And since around 2016, Milwaukee Fire at least, has been paying 7% of their salary into the pension fund.

    Please refer to both my original post as well as that of TransitRider for a general understanding of how the Employee Retirement System works.

  12. TransitRider says:

    I was unaware that MPD and MFD employees aren’t in Social Security. When Social Security started back in the 1930s, it only covered private sector workers; government employees were exempt. Over the years, the law gradually changed to allow government employers to opt into the system, but many haven’t because doing so would increase their payroll expenses by as much as 6.2% (the employer share of Social Security).

    Today all government employers MUST participate in Social Security EXCEPT those with good pension plans. MPD & MFD are apparently in that category. If they dropped their pension plan, City taxpayers would be taxed 6.2% of each employee’s pay (up to $142,800 each).

    Also, even though these City workers pay full Social Security taxes on any outside employment, their Social Security benefit from that outside employment is reduced BECAUSE they receive a pension from “non-covered” earnings. These downward adjustments are called the “Windfall Elimination Provision” and the “Government Pension Offset”.

    Bottom line, these pensions aren’t the gravy train they’re made out to be.

  13. NieWiederKrieg says:

    “The Milwaukee Police Department absorbed 62 cents of every new dollar that went toward city departments’ operating budgets over the last decade. That left just 38 cents per dollar to split among the 18 other city departments.”

    The sad part about giving 62% of Milwaukee taxpayer money to the cops is that amount of crime in Milwaukee continues to increase and spread… You could give 100% of taxpayer money to the police and it wouldn’t make a difference…

    My recommendations:

    1) Eliminate police pensions and replace with a 401k pension plan, matched at 50% up to $5,000.
    2) Reduce police force by 30% through attrition.
    3) Make 20% of police officers walk a beat or ride a bike in high crime areas. (Cops used to be called “flat foots”).
    4) Institute an immediate pay freeze on police wages.
    5) Police officers that reside in the City of Milwaukee will receive special consideration towards job promotions.
    6) The City of Milwaukee provides police and fire protection to a large number of institutions that pay little or no taxes. That must end.

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