July 16, 2019
MILWAUKEE COUNTY LAUNCHES BALANCING ACT
Interactive online tool challenges users to close Milwaukee County’s projected $28 million budget gap using new and existing revenue options
Milwaukee County officials today launched Balancing Act, an interactive online tool simulating the process to balance the 2020 budget. Balancing Act, available at county.milwaukee.gov/balancing-act, will be open until mid-August. Users will analyze the $1.2 billion operating budget and determine ways to close the County’s estimated $28 million budget gap.
“We are the economic engine of the state, and we are running on empty,” said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. “For years, we slashed spending and did more with less in order to build the foundation we need to succeed. Now, we are asking residents to get involved and help us make the hard decisions necessary to put our fiscal house and priorities in order and continue building an even greater Milwaukee County.”
Over the past decade, Milwaukee County residents and businesses have increased annual tax payments to the state by more than $400 million, yet shared revenue and other funding from the state has declined or remained flat over the same time period. Milwaukee County has also maxed out on the amount it can collect from property and sales tax.
Without adequate support from the state or the option to use new tools to generate necessary funding going forward, Milwaukee County’s ability to maintain facilities, preserve community assets and provide high-quality services will be decimated. With no more options to fix the budget locally, County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb and County Executive Abele convened the Fair Deal Workgroup to explore new revenue options to address the structural deficit. Milwaukee County is working in partnership with state leaders to find a solution that puts both Milwaukee County and all of Wisconsin on a path to a sustainable future. To add to this dialogue, County officials encourage the public to share their budget priorities through Balancing Act.
“The Balancing Act tool can help the public better understand the choices we face and our need for a Fair Deal from the State of Wisconsin,” said Theodore Lipscomb, Chairman of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. “Until state leaders enhance Milwaukee County’s ability to generate revenue and increase funding for state mandates, we will continue to face difficult budget choices. The public’s input through Balancing Act and during the entire budget process, including numerous public hearings throughout October, will help the County Board craft a responsible and balanced budget for 2020.”
Milwaukee County’s structural deficit has compounded over the years, due in part to the imbalance of revenue the County receives from the state and state-imposed caps to raise revenue locally.
Balancing Act users will find that in order to balance the 2020 budget, there must either be an increase in revenue or reduction in programs and services the County provides. This year, Balancing Act allows users to balance the budget by selecting both revenue options that are currently available to County officials, and those that would require a change in state law to implement. The County’s most significant revenue-generating option currently allowed by state law is the vehicle registration fee. In Balancing Act, users will also be able to adjust options including property tax, sales tax and state funding. While these options are not currently allowed by the state, Balancing Act showcases how small adjustments can make large impacts in revenue generation.
Milwaukee County provides nearly 1 million residents with state-mandated and non-mandated services ranging from transportation and health and human services, to parks and public safety.
Due to the imbalance of revenue the County receives from the state and state-imposed caps to raise revenue locally, the County has faced a cumulative budget deficit of nearly $250 million. In the same timeframe under County Executive Chris Abele’s leadership, cost-saving measures including moving out of 1.6 million feet of underutilized office space, increasing energy efficiency and streamlining operations have contributed to building the foundation for the County’s fiscal health.
Balancing Act is expected to take less than 30 minutes to complete. The tool walks users through the Milwaukee County budget, with explainers on key financial issues and local topics. In addition to providing input on the tough choices that must be made in the upcoming budget, users will be asked for written feedback on how elected officials can better solve the county’s constraints.
“I want to encourage people to check out the Balancing Act tool, and take a close look at the options we have available to us when we balance the budget,” said Supervisor Jim Luigi Schmitt, Chairman of the Committee on Finance and Audit. “This tool will help the public gain a sense of just how difficult it is to balance the Milwaukee County budget when we have a structural deficit and state laws that limit our available revenue.”
In 2018, more than 650 Milwaukee County residents submitted balanced budgets through Balancing Act, a record number of submissions of any local government using the tool. This is the third year Milwaukee County is using Balancing Act.
The Fair Deal Workgroup was established in 2018 to propose solutions for Milwaukee County’s financial solvency. The workgroup – which includes a diverse group of community and business leaders, elected officials and local stakeholders – proposed a set of recommendations to build a better Milwaukee County and a stronger Wisconsin. For more information on the Fair Deal Workgroup, visit: https://county.milwaukee.gov/EN/Board-of-Supervisors/Fair-Deal.