Jeramey Jannene

Mayor Vetoes Library, Fire Service Cut Restorations in 2023 Milwaukee Budget

In making first veto, Johnson offers compromise to Common Council.

By - Nov 11th, 2022 11:00 am
Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks at his December swearing-in ceremony. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Citing concern over making the city’s dire fiscal issues worse in the future, Mayor Cavalier Johnson vetoed the Common Council’s proposal to fully restore the $4 million in proposed cuts to the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee Fire Department and City Treasurer’s Office.

“For more than a century, city leaders have acted with care and foresight to put Milwaukee in a solid, long-term fiscal position. We paid our bills, funded reserves, sensibly borrowed and fulfilled our obligations to the pension system,” wrote the mayor in his veto message. “Though I respect the attention and consideration the Milwaukee Common Council has directed to my proposed budget, I am concerned about Council action that increases our budgetary challenges over the next several years. As I have said repeatedly, I take no pleasure in staffing cuts, and I have no desire to reduce city services.”

Johnson had proposed eliminating Saturday hours at four of the 12 branch libraries and shuttering the Martin Luther King Library while a replacement was built. The fire department was to see two engines mothballed and the associated positions eliminated by the end of the next year. But the council reversed those cuts in adopting the budget last Friday, in part by using a portion of the remaining funding from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant that Johnson had hoped to use in 2024 to plug a budget gap.

“If I were to accept the changes the Council has submitted, it would place the city in a worse fiscal situation next year and in subsequent years. I am not willing to do that,” wrote Johnson.

With a looming need to begin laying off one in four city workers in 2025 if no new revenue source is obtained, Johnson is proposing a compromise. The council will decide on Nov. 22 whether it will accept the deal.

The mayor’s compromise proposal is to fund a temporary MLK Library, restore service at one of the four branches that was to lose its Saturday hours and eliminate only one fire engine by the end of the year (cutting funding for 0.75 engines instead of 1.5 as he proposed in September). Johnson would maintain his proposed elimination of five temporary workers used for tax collection desk staffing by the treasurer.

Johnson’s budget director Nik Kovac, during the council’s budget deliberations, had already suggested the mayor was open to such a compromise by using previously unanticipated savings. The city must delay a 65-member police recruiting class by at least six weeks (approximately $475,000) due to trainer availability and needs to pay Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) $114,412 less than expected. The council’s omnibus budget amendment used those savings, plus additional funding, to restore the cuts and make additional moves. Johnson’s compromise would also use partial reallocations from uncompleted 2021 ARPA projects (street lighting, lead abatement) as the council proposed, but eliminate the council’s use of future ARPA spending.

Johnson also vetoed the amendment’s addition of $100,000 to the Healthy Foods Establishment Fund and $100,000 for an emergency medical services staffing study. His veto message notes the food program, used to make grants, already has approximately $400,000 in unspent funding. The program, only a couple of years old, has been championed by Ald. Khalif Rainey. The staffing study would be conducted as part of a larger effort with outside support.

In addition to partially vetoing the omnibus amendment, Johnson vetoed the funding source used in Alderman Michael Murphy‘s proposal to add two inspectors to the Department of Neighborhood Services. Johnson would maintain the new positions, but eliminate the $125,744 in property tax levy funding. The positions, which Murphy said would speed up permit review and ultimately yield more property tax revenue, would be funded with unspent funds from the department’s 2022 budget.

The council will take up Johnson’s vetoes at its Nov. 22 meeting. Under the budget process, the council can either override Johnson’s vetoes or sustain the veto and adopt his amendment. If it does not adopt the compromise, but sustains the veto the city, at least temporarily, would be in the unusual situation of not having budgeted for the departments under which Johnson issued his vetoes.

With two new members due to be sworn in, the number of votes needed to override a veto will change by the meeting. With 13 members, nine council members would need to vote to override Johnson’s veto. The omnibus amendment originally passed with 10 votes.

The budget vetoes are the new mayor’s first-ever vetoes. “It is an action I take with both restraint and seriousness. My vetoes are more than an expression of opposition; they are reserved for files that divert us from the path we should be on,” wrote the mayor.

Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us