Groups Call For Defunding the Police To Solve Milwaukee Pension Crisis
Move would strip $78 million from MPD budget, leave others intact.
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 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.
“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%.
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.
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