On Sunday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett again called for the legislature to allow a referendum in Milwaukee asking voters to approve a .5 percent sales tax increase for “public safety.” Appearing on UpFront with Mike Gousha, Barrett said however that state legislators should not actually try to make Milwaukee fight crime by changing the no-pursuit policy or hire a new police chief.
“That’s exactly what some of them have raised,” Barrett said. “I raised the question, so are you going to be choosing the police chief in Algoma? Are you going to be choosing the police chief in West Bend? How much interference are we going to have from state government in local affairs?”
Neither Algoma nor West Bend have asked the state of Wisconsin for extra taxing authority for public safety.
“That is a non-starter for me to have them come to me to say, we’re going to decide who the police chief is or we’re going to decide this policy of the police department,” Barrett said. “I’m asking them that I think in a democracy is one of the most fundamental things and that is to let our citizens have the right to decide whether they want to tax themselves.”
Barrett, of course, opposed any attempt to have his streetcar system, including the creation of the TIF districts to fund the city’s portion of the construction, put on the ballot in a referendum.
When Gousha asked Barrett about the city’s portion of the streetcar construction costs, Barrett was allowed to dodge the question by mentioning the federal funding only. “A majority of the dollars comes from the federal government,” Barrett said. “the operating will come from another federal grant for the first couple of years. There will be a local match that we will take out of our parking fund. So there is no property tax dollars going into this.”
Except the parking fund is money that could be used for other city services, including fire and police. In addition, Barrett is using $59 million through three separate TIF districts. Gousha didn’t ask Barrett about that loss of revenue to the city.
Instead, Barrett continued to claim that it’s a separate issue. “Okay. you’re mad at me about the streetcar,” Barrett said. “I get that. You’re going to make the streets of Milwaukee less safe because you’re mad at the mayor? Is that what we come down to in state government? That you don’t like a decision you made at the local level so you’re not going to allow us to have the level of police protection that our citizens deserve?”
Barrett said that if he’s not allowed to raise the sales tax now then the cuts will be even deeper next year.
Despite Barrett’s call for more taxing authority, the effort to recall the mayor looks to be coming up short.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice, Gannett’s political gossip columnist, reported Friday on the name-calling between the organizer of an effort to recall Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Barrett’s chief of staff Patrick Curley. But the article also points out that time is running out for the recall effort:
Jansen’s group, which calls itself “Save Our City. Milwaukeeans Can’t Wait,” has only about two weeks to turn in more than 51,000 petition signatures to force a recall election against Barrett, who was re-elected last year with 70% of the vote.
Any resident of the city of Milwaukee who is eligible to vote can sign the petition.
Asked about the petition drive, Jansen acknowledged that it is moving along slowly and that he may not have been the best person to coordinate the effort. He declined to give odds on whether his group would hit its target.
“We’re going to the end,” Jansen said. “If we don’t get what we think we wanted to get and expected to get, I will shake the mayor’s hand and say, ‘I was wrong. I felt there was more pent-up desire to have a different city.’ “