Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called it a “historic day” before he signed a bipartisan bill on Tuesday that sends more money to Milwaukee and gives both the city and county the ability to raise the local sales tax in an effort to avoid bankruptcy.
The measure also sends 36% more money overall to every other smaller city, town, village and county in Wisconsin, part of a deal Evers struck with Republican legislative leaders to also increase funding for K-12 public schools and send more money to private schools that accept voucher students.
Evers signed the bill surrounded by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, Milwaukee leaders and local officials in Wausau. Local governments have been clamoring for more state aid following years of cuts or stagnant funding that have forced cuts to essential services like police and fire protection.
State Sen. LaTonya Johnson, of Milwaukee, said at the bill signing ceremony that the city was “on the verge of insolvency” that would have required laying off hundreds of police and firefighters, among others. The additional funding provides a lifeline, she said.
“It is our city’s opportunity to start over,” Johnson said.
The roughly $1 billion in aid to local governments — known as shared revenue — would be paid for by tapping 20% of the state’s 5-cent sales tax. Aid would then grow along with sales tax revenue. The measure increases current aid by about $250 million statewide.
The shared revenue program to fund local governments, created in 1911, has remained nearly unchanged for almost 30 years, despite overall growth in tax revenues. Shared revenue for counties and municipalities was cut in 2004, 2010 and 2012 and since then has been relatively flat.
The Legislature passed the bill on a bipartisan vote last week.
While the focus of the new law is sending more money to Wisconsin’s local governments, it also includes a wide array of other provisions.
The law also targets diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
It prevents Milwaukee from using tax money for “funding any position for which the principal duties consist of promoting individuals or groups on the basis of their race, color, ancestry, national origin or sexual orientation.”
The law also says that no local government “may discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment on the basis of, race, color, ancestry, national origin, or sexual orientation in making employment decisions.”