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Milwaukee Mayor Asks State For Authority To Create Sales Tax

Barrett Says Money Would Help Fund Public Safety Efforts

Tom Barrett
Lukas Keapproth/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is asking state officials to authorize a half-cent sales tax in the city to help fund local police and fire departments.

Barrett says the state has frozen or cut shared revenue payments for 15 years. He also argues state laws limit labor negotiations with police unions. So, Barrett says in order to keep property taxes under control, it’s fair to ask the state to help Milwaukee create a city sales tax.

“As it stands right now, in the budget I will be delivering next month, we will have to have a lowering in the strength of the police department. I want to avoid that, and I think residents of Milwaukee want to avoid that as well,” Barrett said Wednesday.

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Milwaukee voters would still have to approve the sales tax in a binding referendum next spring, Barrett said.

Gov. Scott Walker says the proposed state budget would help some communities like Milwaukee hire more police officers.

“We actually put substantial new dollars to help high-crime area municipalities, for which Milwaukee would be potentially be one of the largest recipients,” Walker said. “We’ve helped them in the past with things like ShotSpotter (a system for detecting the sound of gunfire.) This is outright assistance to hire more law enforcement officials, more officers on the street.”

Walker said Barrett has to convince state lawmakers on the city sales tax, since authorization would likely have to come in the state budget currently before the Legislature. Walker said he hasn’t heard Republican legislative leaders making the sales tax a priority.