State Representative Mandela Barnes
By Steve Waring
Special to the Milwaukee Times
Beginning this July and for at least the next two years, Milwaukee residents will have to make do with $300 million less in revenue from the state of Wisconsin under the biennial budget proposed by Governor Scott Walker. With Republican majorities in both the Senate and Assembly, ‘knockout’ cuts in government services are inevitable, according to a panel which included several local government representatives. The topic of the panel discussion was “How the State Budget Will Impact Milwaukee.” It was sponsored by the Community Brainstorming Conference Breakfast Forum April 25 at St. Matthew CME Church, 2944 N. 9th St. The panelists consisted of Dr. Michael Bonds, president of the Milwaukee School Board; Michelle Bryant, policy director for State Sen. Lena C. Taylor (District 4); Rep. Mandela Barnes, State Assembly (District 11); Rep. Evan Goyke, State Assembly (District 18); and Ald. Nik Kovak, city of Milwaukee (District 3). Milwaukee’s total budget for 2015 was $1.3 billion. The discussion began with a brief explanation of how the budget process works by Ms. Bryant, who said that the proposed budget has already moved to the Joint Finance Committee which has executive authority to fast track passage of certain budget items. Republicans hold a 12-4 advantage on the Joint Finance Committee. “Some of what has already made it through has left me floored literally,” she said going on to list mandatory drug testing for unemployment compensation, food stamps and housing benefits, even though a similar policy by the state of Florida was recently ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. After the introduction by Ms. Bryant, the majority of the discussion concerned how to minimize the hardship these cuts will impose on those Milwaukee residents who live in a low-wage or jobless households. One of the problems highlighted by the cuts is that the city of Milwaukee can only rely on property taxes for revenue, according to Ald. Kovak. “Virtually every other city of our size has other revenue streams,” he said. “Most states share sales tax revenue with municipalities.” In Wisconsin sales tax revenue is added to the general revenue fund. Rep. Barnes was scathing in his criticism of the priorities in the proposed budget singling out the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. as “literally a money pit, like throwing money in a hole.” The budget cuts will not attract new business or talent to Wisconsin and he suggested that Milwaukee will have to attract new people and business without further help from the state. How will the state budget impact the City of Milwaukee? Dr. Bonds described the Wisconsin public educa- tion system as one of the crown jewels in the state and lamented how the cuts to education will make it more difficult to retain and recruit talented personnel, especially to the university system. Dr. Bonds said he would resist efforts to pull public schools out of the district and put them under private management. And now that School Choice is to be im- plemented statewide, many municipalities are unhappy at the prospect of revenue be- ing siphoned away from their local education programs. The state budget for the Department of Correc- tions will be reduced about 5 percent, according to Rep. Goyke who gave the most upbeat report. He said a sig- nificant part of the decrease was due to moving the juve- nile diversion program for 17-year-olds to the Depart- ment of Children and Fami- lies. “I actually like that,” he said. He was also given the last word of the discussion and said if given one wish he would like to see prison reform focused on reduced sentencing or release of lowlevel offenders. With a prison population of more than 22,000 Wisconsin leads the U.S. in the number of incarcerated persons.