By Karen Stokes
On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Common Council voted to raise the sales tax 2% next year. The bipartisan plan aims to avoid bankruptcy and secure the city’s financial stability. With the approved ordinance, the sales tax in Milwaukee would rise to 7.5%.
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson is prepared to sign the new sales tax into law which received a 12-3 vote in favor of the tax increase. The projected annual revenue is estimated to be $190 million to primarily pay for the city’s underfunded pension obligation.
In an official statement the Mayor said, “I applaud today’s vote by the Milwaukee Common Council to enact a 2% city sales tax. In taking this action, the Council has protected Milwaukee and its residents from unimaginable cuts to library and public safety services.”
According to city officials, a “no” vote would have had catastrophic consequences resulting in significant reductions to the police and fire departments in Milwaukee. Those who voted against it raised concerns about the conditions associated with additional state funding, such as restrictions on expenditure related to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
Council members that voted “no” were additionally concerned about how the increase would affect the elderly on a fixed income, financially struggling families and those living below the poverty level.
The Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression recognizes Alderwoman Coggs, Alderwoman Pratt, and Alderman Chambers for voting against this measure. We also recognize the difficult position the Milwaukee Fire Department and general city employees were placed into. The Milwaukee Alliance continues to stand in solidarity with general city employees, who are supposed to benefit from this increase, though the presentations offered in the town halls failed to explain how.
The State Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers negotiated for months over a deal signed into law last month that gave the city the option to raise the local sales tax to help it avoid insolvency in 2025. The bill signed by the Evers, and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, boosts state aid to local governments by $275 million and ties future aid payments to the state sales tax.
Russell Stamper II told Channel 12 news, “this was the hardest vote I ever experienced. I had to go with what I felt was best for the people who live here.”
“The only door we had to go through was this, it was either, do this, stay on the status quo or have something that is worse and we made the decision to do this so we can keep our services running,” said the Mayor.
The tax hike will expire after 30 years or when the pension is fully funded, whichever comes first. The increase will be implemented January 1, 2024.