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Milwaukee city and county leaders advocate for sales tax referendum

NOW: Milwaukee city and county leaders advocate for sales tax referendum

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Milwaukee city and county leaders made their case at the state Capitol for a proposal to allow the county to put forward a binding referendum to voters to raise the county sales tax by one percent.

At a public hearing Thursday in front of the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means, officials said that the need is urgent to address serious fiscal concerns for the city and county and that the bill – AB 521 – could help.

“If we don’t pass this we are going to continue to see the very difficult decisions at the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Count,” Rep. Evan Goyke (D – Milwaukee), one of the bill’s authors, told CBS 58. “They’re not able to increase services, they’re not able to make investments in infrastructure. Until we change how local government is funded and give us some sort of local revenue source, we’re stuck.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was among the officials testifying today and said that the tight fiscal bind that the city is in has led to difficult decisions, like cutting staff and resources with the Milwaukee Police and Fire Departments.

“The amount of money that the state sends to Milwaukee that is generated locally has dropped over time,” the mayor told reporters. “So we need to have a new partnership with the state of Wisconsin.”

But republicans who control the committee and the Legislature are against raising taxes of any kind and are wary of the effects the potential sales tax increase could have.

“You’re just taking the cash – you’re not lowering property taxes that much, you’re not doing anything else, this is just more money,” Rep. Kevin Petersen (R – Waupaca) told the authors of the bill during the public hearing. “Why as a business person in the state of Wisconsin would I want to invest in Milwaukee then?”

The Assembly is not meeting again this year, so the bill is not going anywhere anytime soon. But supporters of the bill say Thursday’s debate is important to build momentum and support.

“The goal of the discussion and the debate today is to figure out a path forward,” Goyke said.

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