By Rep. LaTonya Johnson
17th Assembly District
Milwaukee – January 2015, Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) released their “New Opportunities for Milwaukee” legislative agenda.
Citing the “failed” War on Poverty that began in 1964, the proposal’s authors begin by declaring victory on behalf of the conservative factions that have been working tirelessly to undermine its cause at every opportunity. And rather than offer ideas that engage with the true magnitude of Milwaukee’s challenges, the “New Opportunities for Milwaukee” agenda calls for a grab bag of small-bore ideas like charter school replication, occupational deregulation, block granting of Chapter 220 funds, tax incentives, and right-to-work zones.
We are appalled that two suburban legislators came up with this plan without consulting the Milwaukee legislators who have spent thousands of hours in these neighborhoods.
Furthermore, these legislators didn’t bother to consult with other major stakeholders like the City of Milwaukee, County Government, or Milwaukee Public Schools.
Nowhere in their proposal is there mention of issues like living wages, access to public transit, affordable healthcare
and childcare, underfunded public schools, or mass incarceration of non-violent offenders—the obstacles to upward
mobility that we, as representatives of over 688,000 citizens in Milwaukee County, hear about on a daily basis.
The authors state that they hope to spark a community-wide conversation about poverty and its causes, and although their actions make it seem disingenuous, we, the people who actually represent Milwaukee would welcome that opportunity.
We do not agree with much that is contained in the “New Opportunities for Milwaukee” agenda, but
we do agree with Rep. Kooyenga and Sen. Darling that “when Milwaukee succeeds, Wisconsin succeeds,” so we take them at their word, and look forward to the upcoming debate around the most effective ways to alleviate
suffering in our communities’ most troubled neighborhoods.
To that end, an anti-poverty Milwaukee agenda should include policies that Democratic legislators have been championing over the last several years, including:
• Raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. Raising the minimum wage rewards the working.
It is a policy that Republicans in the past have supported.
It would benefit Milwaukee’s many low-income workers but also workers across the state of Wisconsin.
• Cut taxes for low-income working people by changing Wisconsin’s existing Earned Income Tax Credit or establishing a new tax credit that targets people who are working but not making enough to work and earn their way into the middle class.
This is also a policy supported by Republican Presidents in the past.
• Open up more positions for Wisconsin’s successful Transitional Jobs program, which connects unemployed workers to short-term employment, mostly in the private sector. This program has garnered support from
many Republican legislators throughout the last few sessions.
• For those that are truly too elderly, disabled, or ill (but not simply unwilling) to work, establish a Senior and Disability Tax Credit to supplement Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
• Evidence from a study conducted in 2012 demonstrated that these four changes to Wisconsin law could reduce poverty in Wisconsin by more than half and by as much as 80%.