Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Supervisors Push Federal Review of State Funding

Is huge decline in state aid to county a violation of residents' civil rights?

By - Jan 18th, 2022 03:27 pm

Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez announces resolution asking for civil rights review of state funding. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Milwaukee County will have to make major cuts to public services if it does not begin to receive new or additional revenues in the near future.

Budget projections by the county’s Office of Performance, Strategy and Budget estimate that by 2027 there won’t be enough revenue to fund the Milwaukee County Transit System or the Milwaukee County Parks Department. Meanwhile, state aid to the county has plummeted since 2010. As Urban Milwaukee has reported, the county has suffered a real (un-inflated) dollar decline in state aid of $455 million since 2010.  

Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez wants to bring the federal government into the county’s fight for more revenue. She held a press conference in the Milwaukee County Courthouse Tuesday – joined by Supervisors Felesia Martin, Steven Shea, Patti Logsdon, Liz Sumner and State Sen. Lena Taylor – to announce a county board resolution that, if passed by the county board, will ask the U.S. Department of Justice for a review of the state’s shared revenue formula.

The majority of the state’s Black and Latino residents live in Milwaukee County. This means that cuts to Milwaukee County services because of inadequate funding disproportionately affect the state’s Black and Latino population. Ortiz-Velez said she believes this amounts to a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“We believe the plight of Milwaukee County residents warrants a federal Department of Justice examination and review of Wisconsin’s shared revenue system and funding formulas.”

Sup. Felesia Martin said, “We are not asking for a handout, we are telling you, we are the ones who are subsidizing much of Wisconsin, and all we’re saying is we want our fair share back.

This discrepancy, noted by Martin, between the growing amount of income and sales taxes the state collects from Milwaukee County residents and the frozen level of state aid returning to the county, is one of the major arguments in the county’s lobbying effort and public awareness campaign called “A Fair Deal for Milwaukee County.”

The “Fair Deal” effort started during the last years of the administration of former County Executive Chris Abele, and the torch has since been taken up by County Executive David Crowley.

Crowley has advocated for increases in shared revenue payments, but he has most actively pushed for a local-option sales tax. The county executive has called for enabling legislation at the state level that would allow the county to hold a referendum on an increase to the county’s sales tax from .5% to 1%. This was included in a provision of Gov. Tony Evers’ latest proposed biennial budget, but it didn’t survive the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Ortiz-Velez is the first county elected official to say the state’s funding violates Title II of the Civil Rights Act, as well as the 14th Amendment. Title II of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation. The 14th Amendment contains the equal protection clause, which requires states to treat their citizens equally under the law, and it has been an important factor in many famous civil rights cases.

“We are here to seek justice for Milwaukee County taxpayers, all Milwaukee county taxpayers,” she said, “and the most vulnerable people in our society who are experiencing great suffering because they don’t have equal access to public accommodations.”

The resolution by Ortiz-Velez also asks the county’s government affairs liaison to request “raw data” from the state on shared revenue payments and disbursements to all 72 counties during the past 10 years.

State funding to other counties and municipalities in Wisconsin has declined over the past decade. But counties may have been hit harder because they operate as the local administrator of state mandated programs, which have also seen declines in state funding. Like Milwaukee, many local governments have resorted to scraping up as much money as they can with revenue sources that aren’t controlled by the state government, leading to the increased use of Vehicle Registration Fees.

The resolution will first be considered by the board’s Committee on Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee. Ortiz Velez already has five co-sponsors for the legislation.

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Categories: MKE County

5 thoughts on “MKE County: Supervisors Push Federal Review of State Funding”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Its the Republican playbook, the rest of the states lazy racist Republican voters leech off the city.

  2. gerrybroderick says:

    I for one am pleased to see this unique approach to challenging the inequitable tax sharing formula, launched. The unfair treatment of Milwaukee County taxpayers by both the executive and legislative branches of government has for decades stymied local efforts to maintain a viable quality of life. Kudos to all the supervisors responsible.

  3. Jhenry1131 says:

    Yes! We need to get creative in how we approach this issue. With the Republican legislature in place for years to come Milwaukee will continue to decline. Everyone complains about Milwaukee…this is why we have many of the issues we do!

  4. kaygeeret says:

    Brilliant idea!

  5. NieWiederKrieg says:

    When the Wisconsin Republican Party gathers for a convention, a sea of white people appears without a single person of color in the crowd (except for Sheriff David Clark). Wisconsin’s GOP legislature is 100% white. Racist language and code words are often used in their campaign literature and speeches. Group photos of Wisconsin Republicans have always reminded me of KKK rallies. The Republican Party is a club for white people.

    That being said, the Federal Department of Justice should investigate the Wisconsin GOP’s racist distribution of tax dollars AND the racist, gerrymandered, GOP drawing of Wisconsin’s congressional voting districts.

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