Rev. Jesse Jackson, faith leaders fight Milwaukee church tax bills

December 2, 2021

Civil rights icon, Rev. Jesse Jackson at Milwaukee’s City Hall.

Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Milwaukee faith leaders in demanding immediate change Tuesday, November 30, 2021, after several churches in the past year have received a tax bill from the city of Milwaukee.

“This is a Milwaukee tax, time for a change,” Jackson said during a news conference at City Hall. “We’re going to engage in demonstrations around the nation. All roads lead to Milwaukee.”

The apparent issue, which Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said has been highlighted during the pandemic, is over a state law that requires churches to re-submit a form with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue every two years to maintain its tax-exempt status.

Jackson and Barrett talked on the phone Monday evening ahead of the event.

Jackson then waited in Barrett’s office Tuesday for him to return from a separate event to meet face-to-face.

The two emerged jointly a short time after.

“The problem that arose here was what happens when that form is not filed,” Barrett said.

The mayor committed to investigating whether by executive order he can prevent churches from no longer receiving their tax-exempt status, even if the proper paperwork isn’t filed with the state.

“If we have churches, particularly during the pandemic that have not filed the proper paperwork, I don’t want them to be penalized,” Barrett said, maintaining the city has followed state law. “The question is whether the assessor has more discretion.”

Jackson, who appeared pleased by the mayor’s action, said he will still demand the churches that paid be refunded, a cause he said he is willing to take to court.

“I’m satisfied Mayor Barrett will do what he says he will do,” Jackson said. “I have high regard for him.”

In a separate event, Jackson appeared with members of Jacob Blake’s family at a Kenosha church to call for racial justice and equality.