Last week, members of the Wisconsin State Assembly released an amendment to the proposed State transportation budget. Among its many provisions is one that has no budgetary impact for the State and only affects Milwaukee County – to slash $16 million from the County’s budget by eliminating our vehicle registration fee. This policy change would affect only Milwaukee County; every other city and county vehicle registration fee would remain intact.
I have worked hard over the last six years to put Milwaukee County on a sustainable financial path. Eliminating the County’s vehicle registration fee, which went into effect in April, does nothing to solve the state’s budget problems. Rather, it reverses the County’s progress and would send the County into a financial tailspin, forcing significant service reductions in both the city of Milwaukee and suburban areas of the county.
If this proposal passes as introduced, we would be forced to address an immediate $7 million hole in this year’s budget and start planning for an additional $16 million shortfall next year. A cut of this Chris Abele’s Letter to the Editor magnitude is especially difficult to deal with in the middle of the year.
Some of the difficult decisions we would have to consider include a combination of raising bus fares; reducing paratransit service to the federal minimum levels; eliminating flyer service to Summer- Fest, State Fair, and other festivals; eliminating bus service to suburban public schools such as those in Cudahy and Wauwatosa; and eliminating JobLines routes that connect workers with employers.
Seven million dollars this year and $16 million next year might not sound like a lot in the context of the County’s entire budget. But to be sure, the longterm effect of Milwaukee County losing the vehicle registration fee would be to destabilize the financial foundation upon which all the County’s services are built.
The County funds everything from workforce development to opioid addiction and prevention services, parenting courses, bike paths that connect our communities, senior dining programs, mental health crisis response training for police officers, and much, much more. Without the revenue of a vehicle registration fee, all those services would suffer as money gets tighter.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently published an excellent analysis of this proposal. I encourage you to read it to learn more about the potential consequences for Milwaukee County.
I want to see a solution to this challenge that works for the State as well as the County and, as always, I am ready to work hard with legislators on both sides of the aisle to get there.
Milwaukee County Executive