Milwaukee County executive talks money, security ahead of RNC

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said RNC is an opportunity to 'showcase our entire community'

A pedestrian walks through the Deer District on Wednesday, July 3, 2024, near the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said “time will tell” whether the Republican National Convention brings an economic boom to Milwaukee businesses and tax coffers. 

The RNC’s planning committee projected $200 million in economic impact from an estimated 50,000 attendees for the event, which begins July 15. But in recent weeks, Milwaukee business owners have reported mixed results

“We’ve talked to businesses who have been booked and those who have not been booked,” Crowley told Wisconsin Eye’s Newsmakers program Monday. “And as we continue to talk to our tourism experts back at home, they say that we are still on track on seeing that economic windfall that was projected in the very beginning.”

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The city enacted a 2 percent sales tax at the start of the year, and the county raised its sales tax to 0.9 percent. 

Crowley says the sales tax revenues have already allowed the county to make public investments and cut property taxes.

“Taking it into account the Republican National Convention and what this may do for Milwaukee County, we think that this is going to do modest (things) for us,” Crowley said. “But again, this is an opportunity for us to get some free marketing all across the world. And so we know moving forward that we’ll see our sales tax numbers go up even more because it’s gonna allow us to showcase our entire community.”

Crowley also addressed protest restrictions at the convention, saying that leaders will have to balance security with free speech rights. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is suing the city of Milwaukee for rules about when and where protests can happen around the RNC. 

An ordinance passed by the Milwaukee Common Council says protesters must march on an “officially defined parade route” and limits the time they can do so to seven hours a day. 

“As a former board member of the ACLU-Milwaukee chapter, I truly believe that all organizers, no matter what side of the political spectrum they may be on, that they have that first amendment right to protest. But it must be done respectfully and making sure that everyone’s safety is in mind,” Crowley said. 

Gordon Hintz, a former Democratic state legislator who is now with the Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council, sat on the city’s host planning committee for the 2020 Democratic National Committee. The convention ended up being conducted virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hintz said there needs to be a balancing act between addressing security concerns and accommodating people attending the event, and those who want to protest.

“Which means not everybody is going to be happy probably, but these things are logistically complicated, and I think there are good people with good intentions trying to balance those things,” he said. 

Both Democrats and Republicans have rented dueling billboards over Milwaukee ahead of the convention. 

The Democratic National Committee has also paid for advertisements on 57 city buses around Milwaukee in support of Biden.