Evers signs shared revenue bill, here's what the new law means for Milwaukee and the possible legal challenge ahead
MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- Gov. Tony Evers has signed the sweeping legislation to overhaul funding to local governments which includes a lifeline to help Milwaukee address their financial challenges through a new sales tax option.
The new law would give an additional $247 million to municipalities by dedicating 20% of the state's 5-cent sales tax, known as shared revenue. That money is one of the main revenue streams local governments use to fund police, fire, EMS, libraries, and other services.
The proposal was crafted in agreement between Gov. Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu. It's part of a much board package that also includes a boost in funding to public and private schools, a separate piece of legislation Evers said he signed earlier this morning.
"We are not only providing historic investments in local communities I also secured $1 billion in spendable revenue for K-12 school and education which means we are finally giving our schools much needed resources," Evers said during a bill signing ceremony in Wausau.
Under the bill, Milwaukee will also be able to pursue a 2% sale tax hike to help the city pay down pension debt and maintain vital services, if successful by a two-thirds vote by the Milwaukee Common Council. Milwaukee County would also be allowed to levy a 0.4% sales tax if approved by the Board of Supervisors.
The council plans to vote on the sales tax provision July 11. To pass, 10 out of 15 council members would be required for a two-thirds vote.
A series of measures targeting Milwaukee will now go into effect as well which were opposed by Milwaukee leaders, Democrats and Evers.
The Milwaukee Common Council said they are in process of hiring lawyers to explore ways to challenge the Milwaukee-specific provisions in the shared revenue bill such as those that restrict diversity hires and limit power of the Fire and Police Commission.
"The city of Milwaukee was uniquely called out on a number of items," Alder Marina Dimitrijevic said. "We have a united voice in being very opposed to some of these attacks on local control."
In response to possible legal action, Vos said, "After a historic opportunity for the city of Milwaukee to reset their finances, it seems like they should turn their attention to actually doing that instead of focusing on frivolous lawsuits."
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Hires
The city would be prohibited from using any money raised by a new sales tax to fund positions which "consist of promoting individuals on the basis of their race, color, ancestry, national origin, or sexual orientation," the bill states.
The law also bans all local governments from making "preferences in hiring or contracting."
Police at Milwaukee Public Schools
Police officers, 25 of them, would be stationed at Milwaukee Public Schools, under the legislation. This provision would begin during the 2025-2026 school year.
In 2020, MPS ended their contract with the Milwaukee police department following protests in wake of racial justice protests over the killing of George Floyd. The issue of police officers at schools has been a controversial issue for years, even before the protests occurred.
The school board would also be required to collect statistics of how many crimes and disorderly conduct violations occurred on school grounds to send officers to appropriate districts.
Limiting Power of the Police & Fire Commission
The bill will overhaul how the Fire and Police Commission operates by removing a lot of their oversight.
The commissions power that is used to set policies for fire and police will now be transferred to the department chiefs.
Policies established for the departments may be modified or suspended by a two-thirds vote of the common council.
Maintaining Police, Fire Levels
All cities and counties could risk a 15% cut in state funding if they fail to meet certain staffing quotas in their police and fire departments.
Andrew Wagner, president of the Milwaukee Professional Police Association, said the bill stipulates that MPD must maintain 1,725 sworn officers, which is about an additional 100 officers.
If the increased sales tax is adopted, the city would have to employ no fewer than 1,725 law enforcement officers, including 175 detectives, and attain a daily staffing level of no fewer than 218 members of the paid fire department 10 years after the tax is imposed.
The bill also requires the Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to submit a report annually to the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee detail how the tax revenues were spent.
Milwaukee would be prevented from using any sales tax money to expand, operate or maintain the streetcar.
-All municipalities could only hold advisory referendums for limited purposes, such as municipal or county revenue sharing agreements between political subdivisions.
-Local public health officers would be banned from closing a business during a health emergency for no more than 30 days, unless local government officials approve an extension.