By Edgar Mendez
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
A revenue sharing bill by the Wisconsin Legislature has enabled Mayor Cavalier Johnson to sign into law a historic 2% sales tax that will help the city avoid bankruptcy, maintain jobs and fund crucial services for residents.
But the bill also comes with a number of provisions that give the state more control over local decisions.
Here are some things you should know:
1. Milwaukee Police and Fire Departments
A major provision of the shared revenue bill requires the city to maintain its current level of staffing for the police and fire departments. The city must use 90% of the revenue generated from the new sales tax to help cover the city’s annual pension contribution and other pension related costs, and 10% to maintain police and fire staffing levels.
In future years, the revenue generated must be used to hire more police and fire department personnel.
Specifically, the bill requires the city to reach staffing levels of 1,725 law enforcement officers, including 175 detectives, and not fewer than 218 members of the paid fire department staff within 10 years from 2024, when the new tax will first be imposed.
2. Milwaukee Public Schools
Beginning in the 2025-2026 school year, Milwaukee Public Schools is required to hire 25 school resource officers to work within local schools and at school-related events. Resource officers have not been placed at schools since 2016, the result of a push by students and others to have them removed.
3. Fire and Police Commission
Though we are likely to see a significant increase in the number of police and fire department employees, the entity charged with overseeing those groups, the Fire and Police Commission, has had its powers reduced.
Specifically, the legislation removes the role of the commission in setting policies for the fire and police departments and transfers them to the chiefs of the respective departments. In addition, at least one commission member would need to be selected from a list provided by the police and fire unions.
Two Fire and Police Commission members, Chairman Edward Fallone and Vice Chair Amanda Avalos, resigned to protest the action.
The legislation allows the city to modify policies established by the chiefs with a two-thirds vote by the full Common Council.
Johnson told reporters during a luncheon last month that the Fire and Police Commission maintains the power to appoint positions and oversee the departments.
4. Diversity, equity and inclusion
Sales tax money gained from local governments in Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, can no longer be used to fund any positions with principal duties of promoting individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender, race, color or national origin. It also prevents preferences in hiring or contracting based on those identifiers.
5. The Hop
Officials will face additional challenges in funding or expanding The Hop MKE, also known as the Milwaukee Streetcar, in future years. The shared revenue bill prohibits revenue from property tax levies or sales taxes be used for development, operations or maintenance of a streetcar system.
6. Additional city and county provisions
City and county officials must identify all the buildings that are not being used – those which each entity has the power to sell. Both governmental entities must also submit a plan to the Joint Finance Committee on the use of or sale of those buildings.
7. Office of Violence Prevention
An independent audit will be required of the Office of Violence Prevention. The findings will be submitted to the Legislature.