A Fair Deal for Milwaukee
A Looming Crisis Calls for a New Partnership
Milwaukee County is reaching a crisis point. For too long, Milwaukee County has been forced to delay necessary maintenance in our parks and facilities, and put off important investments in public infrastructure and popular cultural venues. In recent years, budget cuts have threatened public services that our neighbors depend on every day.
This is why Milwaukee County leaders have joined together with business and community leaders to propose a Fair Deal for Milwaukee County. The Fair Deal proposal would create a new partnership with the State of Wisconsin to protect public services and invest in our future.
Show Your Support and Stay Informed
Sign the petition to show your support for a Fair Deal!
I support a Fair Deal for Milwaukee County. A new partnership between state government and Milwaukee County will help generate the revenue Milwaukee County needs to fund essential public services and cultural amenities, and invest in our future.
Balancing the Budget, Investing in the Future
Milwaukee County's ability to generate revenue is limited by state laws. This leads to two problems, both of which are growing worse. The first is a lack of adequate funding for operations, which leads to a budget gap that must be closed each year. The second is an inability to fund urgently needed repairs to crumbling infrastructure and invest in the future.
The annual budget gap for operations is projected to grow to $80 million by 2023. The capital budget will face a nearly $100 million gap in 2020.
Putting Milwaukee County on the Road to Success
Former County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr., and former Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele led the effort to prevent a serious crisis. The Fair Deal for Milwaukee County Workgroup, which they co-chaired, identified and proposed viable solutions that could help put the County on the road to success.
Former Chairman Lipscomb and Former County Executive Abele jointly sign the Fair Deal legislation on Feb. 7, 2019.
The workgroup looked closely at causes of the problem and analyzed many solutions. Their conclusion was that solutions have to address the root cause of the problem – a rapidly growing imbalance between the cost of providing services and the ability to generate sufficient revenue to meet Milwaukee County's needs.
These recommendations represent shared priorities in strengthening the partnership between Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin:
- Allowing Milwaukee County local control to generate new revenue and reduce the current reliance on property taxes through a binding referendum process
- Increased, fair contributions from the state toward the provision of current and any new state-mandated services
- Fully reimbursing the County for the cost of patrolling freeways (Milwaukee County is the only Wisconsin county required by state law to patrol freeways)
- Equally sharing Circuit Court and Register of Deeds fees collected by the County (currently 80% goes to the state and 20% remains with the County)
- Adjusting state Shared Revenue payments and other state aids to align with any inflationary increases in the cost of adequately providing public programs and services
- Accepting federal funds to expand BadgerCare coverage for 80,000 Wisconsin residents
- Adequately funding any youth justice facilities located in the County
- Rejecting any reduction in existing funding below amounts received in the 2019 Adopted Budget
The convening of the Fair Deal for Milwaukee County Workgroup brought together a diverse group of stakeholders – from community advocates to business interests – who all share one thing in common: they each understand the importance of the services that local government provides and are committed to being part of a solution.
The Workgroup, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, which is made up of every executive from Milwaukee County's 19 municipalities, each unanimously approved this set of recommendations. These recommendations are an important step in creating a united voice for Milwaukee County.
A Shared Revenue Formula With Unintended Consequences
Counties provide state-mandated services on a local level, like court services and certain social services. State law also allows counties to provide other, non-mandated services and amenities, like public transit, parks and cultural venues.
To fund these services and amenities, Milwaukee County collects revenue through a variety of sources, such as property taxes and user fees. Much of the tax revenue collected by Milwaukee County is sent to the State of Wisconsin. Some of the tax revenue sent to Madison comes back to Milwaukee County to help fund state-mandated and other services. How much comes back to Milwaukee County as "shared revenue" is determined by a well-intentioned formula that has produced unintended consequences.
A look at the last 10 years of growth in Milwaukee illustrates how the shared revenue formula limits Milwaukee County's success when our economy is growing and healthy. When the economy began to recover from the Great Recession of 2008, the amount of tax revenue collected by Milwaukee County and sent to the state started to increase, but shared revenue stayed flat.
This chart shows that in 2009 Milwaukee County sent about $2.1 billion in tax revenue to the state. By 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available), the total amount of revenue Milwaukee County collected and sent to Madison had grown to more than $2.5 billion.
Milwaukee County is now sending at least $400 million dollars more each year to the state than it did in 2009. (The number is likely closer to $500 million, although State of Wisconsin data isn't available after 2015.)
Despite this massive increase in Milwaukee County revenue going to the state, very little of that additional revenue came back to Milwaukee County.
This chart shows how the amount of shared revenue sent back to Milwaukee County either stayed flat or declined since 2010, even as the amount of tax revenue Milwaukee County collected and sent to Madison increased over the same period.
What's Happening Now
Community leaders, businesses, and local organizations are coming together to support one of the Workgroup's recommendations, which called for "new, additional revenue, and a reduction in the reliance on property taxes, through enabling legislation and a binding County-wide referendum."
A new coalition, called Move Forward MKE, has formed to promote this idea.
Our coaliltion is seeking enabling legislation for a one percent increase (from .5% to 1.5%) in the Milwaukee County sales tax, with 25% of new revenue going to property tax relief, through a binding local referendum.
The one cent increase is estimated to generate $160 million in the first year, with $40 million going to property tax relief, about $11 million going to public health infrastructure, and the rest divided between the county and municipalities to fund public services and maintain public infrastructure.
Our idea has support in the Wisconsin Legislature. Representative Evan Goyke has introduced AB 521 in the Assembly, and Senator LaTonya Johnson has introduced SB 471 in the Senate.
What You Can Do To Help
Contact your state legislators and tell them you support a Fair Deal for Milwaukee County. Tell your Representative that you support Assembly Bill 521, and tell your Senator that you support Senate Bill 471.
Click here to go to the State Legislature's website and enter your address under the "Who Are My Legislators" link to get the names and contact information for your representatives.