In a pointed letter to Gov. Scott Walker, Mayor Tom Barrett and two top city officials say the city’s tax base, policy-making authority, public safety and improvements to infrastructure all have been under attack as a result of the state budget awaiting the governor’s signature.
“The full impact of the state budget that has been sent for your signature will reverberate across our community for years to come,” says the letter, which was sent to Walker on Tuesday.
“Despite statements to the contrary, many of the budget actions taken over the past few months reflect a lack of understanding or recognition of the role we can play in job creation and the state’s economic recovery.”
In an interview, Barrett said the budget bill affected not only the state’s largest city, but all of the state’s municipalities.
The letter, also signed by Common Council President Willie Hines and Ald. Michael Murphy, questioned the relationship between municipalities and state government.
“On the one hand, we are being asked to be increasingly self-reliant. On the other, we are being stripped of our ability to make decisions that reflect the priorities of our communities,” the three wrote.
Tom Evenson, a Walker spokesman, said in a statement that “Gov. Walker is evaluating the budget in its entirety. From tax relief to infrastructure improvements and increased school aid, all in all, the taxpayers of Milwaukee do exceptionally well in this budget.”
The city officials asked Walker to veto two provisions in the budget. One, first proposed by Walker, would end the city’s 75-year-old residency law and residency laws statewide for all local units of government. The residency provision would allow police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel to live within 15 miles of the boundaries of the municipality they work in.
Barrett said ending residency was a “blatant usurpation of home rule.”
Barrett also asked Walker to veto a provision involving billboards.
The budget bill changes the way billboards are classified for tax purposes. Milwaukee currently assesses billboards as real property parcels and includes the value of the permit, which allows billboard companies to operate them legally.
The net effect of the change in the budget bill is that billboards would be classified as personal property. That means, according to Barrett, that assessments of billboards in Milwaukee alone will drop from $76 million to $6.6 million.
“We share your goal to lower the tax burden throughout the state, but this provision will only reduce the tax burden for companies that are primarily based out-of-state while raising property taxes for Milwaukee-based businesses and homeowners,” Barrett said.