Milwaukee was on the other end of a Mike Tyson or Floyd Mayweather punch to the gut. Reeling on the ropes, the city and area taxpayers took one blow after another. Like most Tyson fights, it happened so quickly.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Finance, I have to say that last week was one heck of a week. After a two-month break and missing the July 1st completion deadline for the budget, Republican members of the committee set the stage for a knockout. Round one started with indifference to the concerns raised around the state’s $3 billion corporate welfare package to Taiwanese Tech company Foxconn. When Republicans, who touted the potential 3,000-13,000 jobs from the private company, were asked about regional transit to connect Milwaukee to the proposed Kenosha plant location, there was nothing but silence. Milwaukee has the highest unemployment rate in the state for African-American men.
Round two brought the bruising news that the continued decline in shared revenue was sorely impacting city leaders’ ability to fully fund police and threatened a reduction in critical public safety services. When asked to consider a half-cent sales tax to cover these shortfalls, again silence.
Moving into the third round, the Committee decided to take aggressive action and box in Milwaukee’s funding streams on the streetcar project. Limiting how dollars could be used, Republicans restricted the City of Milwaukee’s ability to spend money on the downtown streetcar project. Even though people are already working on this project, contracts had been signed and track have been laid, the committee showed complete indifference.
It was in the haze of that action, that Milwaukee got the news that the funding to complete the I-94 East/ West leg of the Zoo interchange project would not be in the budget. Knees buckling, city residents were told that they would not see the transportation projects in that area completed for potentially years.
In the course of the budget, Milwaukee had already suffered a cut above the eye with the expansion of the voucher program through a Republican motion that raised the income guidelines for participation, meaning the income limit for a family of four moves from $44,955 to $53,460 (plus another $7,000 if the parents are married). It is estimated that this will allow an additional 550 students to participate in the voucher program.
But unlike Tyson’s opponents, Milwaukee is not out for the count. We are fighters and have come up against tougher challenges. We have weathered being punched in the gut and rose to ask “Is that all you got?” As the amended budget, now moves to the full legislature.