Higher Milwaukee sales tax; committee OKs plan after public hearing

A Milwaukee sales tax is a step closer to reality. A Common Council committee OK'd moving forward with the city sales tax on Monday, June 26. That sets up a crucial meeting in just two weeks.

July 11 is the date the Common Council will meet to weigh the proposal and likely vote on it. Common Council President Jose Perez suggested it was also possible the members at that July 11 meeting could decide to hold the vote over until the end of July. 

On Monday, it was the first and only official public hearing to discuss the sales tax where people shared their two cents.

"Why no one likes having a new sales tax here in the city, everybody understands the predicament the city is in. when we looked at crime and gun violence and what’s happening. And when our members saw that not passing this measure would lead to the layoffs of over 700 police officers, 250 firefighters, etc., everyone’s overwhelming in favor of this measure," said Darryl Morin of Forward Latino.

Darryl Morin of Forward Latino

None of the nearly 20 people testified against the sales tax. Mostly all of those testifying before the council's Steering and Rules Committee spoke in favor.

"The sales tax is so critical into keeping our libraries open. They’re anchor institutions, they’re shining beacons for all youth, to inspire the love of reading, and live-long learning," said Michelle Bria, Journey House.

Many represented organizations like Forward Latino, Journey House, and the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

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"Milwaukee will be in a position where basic cities services like sanitation, public safety, transportation, public health all of those things will be at risk without significant action," said Joel Brennan of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

The Milwaukee fire chief also supported it. 

Two taxpayers spoke without taking a yes or no stance. 

"I think there are certain things that they can readjust or due process in order to save money," said Batina Lawson of Milwaukee.

"I don’t have enough information. It would be foolish for anyone to make a decision without information," said Marty Wall of Milwaukee.

After the testimony, members of the Steering and Rules Committee voted on whether to advance the sales tax proposal to the full Common Council, with no members voting no.

Two members of the Steering and Rules Committee abstained Alderwoman Milele Coggs and Alderman Russell Stamper. They said they needed more time to talk with their constituents.

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While the committee moves it to the full Common Council, the council president is not sure if the proposal has the ⅔ vote needed. 

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the sales tax could bring the city $194 million a year. It must be used on the ballooning pension problem. Extra money would have to go to hiring more police and firefighters. It will expire when the city's pension program is fully funded, or in 30 years after the sales tax is started, whichever comes first.