“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
Every year, the budget process gives us the opportunity to face our challenges and discover new opportunities to meet those challenges. This year is no different. Currently our fiscal difficulties loom large, and in the midst of so many varied opinions and viewpoints, I want to make my position clear. I fully support the City being able to diversify its revenue streams through new means such as increased shared revenue or a local sales tax. However, I have to express my frustration with the way this conversation is continually being framed. I am tired of Milwaukee being positioned as the beggar, waiting for the State to save us. We absolutely should have the right to raise additional revenue, but in the midst of the challenges we face, we cannot wait for the State in the fight for better outcomes for our residents.
Milwaukee, the largest City in the State, seems to carry a reputation with the rest of the state as being a “burden” when in fact we generate a large portion of the state’s revenue and possess the greatest opportunity for the State to realize more growth and economic success. In 2015, Milwaukee alone provided $1.377 billion in State Revenue, and only received $227 million of shared revenue in return.
That means we get back a paltry 16% of our contribution. We are home to nearly 1/5 of all jobs statewide and right now we are producing the most growth and development in the state. With the appropriate level of resources to invest in our infrastructure and better local services, we could see this economic development boom scale exponentially and bring even more revenue to the State of Wisconsin.
60% (and climbing) of Wisconsin’s Fortune 500 companies are in Milwaukee and our universities and colleges matriculate around 70,000 skilled and educated individuals into the state’s workforce annually.
However, our fiscal challenges inhibit our ability to build upon and leverage these assets to broaden and deepen Milwaukee’s economic and social wellbeing. We need more resources to improve infrastructure and provide investment in neighborhoods in order to support the development of local businesses and attract new ones to the City. New or increased revenue would allow us to more easily resource solutions to these challenges.
If the State wants fiscal success and improved outcomes for Wisconsin as a whole, it is in their best interest to invest in the City. However, if the state will not rethink its investment in Milwaukee then we must advocate for the authority to reap the benefits of our growth.
Interestingly, the idea of investing in Milwaukee is nothing new to the State and has proven to be fruitful in a number of recent cases. The State recognized Milwaukee’s value when investing in the Wisconsin Center District. They understood that this asset could benefit the region and all of Wisconsin, a similar viewpoint that they had when they invested in the Fiserv Forum. The latter investment has generated unbelievable development in the surrounding area and contributed heavily to Wisconsin being selected as the first Midwestern host of the DNC in decades. As they have in the past, State officials should again embrace the opportunity to bring more resources to the population of a City that gives so much to the State.
In the City and County, our mandate is to provide a high level of local services to create a good quality of life for all residents. Providing that level of service in our current financial situation is not going to be easy. Tough decisions must and will be made in order to deal with our circumstances. Our residents deserve our best efforts to do so. None of us deny the severity of the challenges that loom. But if we continue to bring a coalition of voices to the table to shape solutions we will empower Milwaukeeans with a collective will to control our own destiny. That is my focus for this budget process. It is also my hope that the State will recognize Milwaukee’s valuable contributions and join me in supporting the people of Milwaukee.