The Milwaukee County Board overrode my veto of a $130 million sales tax referendum by a vote of 13-6.
While the referendum question is merely advisory, the wording is misleading:
"Advisory Referendum: Shall the State of Wisconsin grant Milwaukee County the authority to provide property tax relief of at least sixty-five million dollars ($65 million) by levying a one percent (1%) county sales and use tax to be used to remove the following three items from the property tax levy: parks recreation culture, transit, and emergency medical services (EMS)?"
Who doesn’t want tax relief? Of course our parks, recreation, culture, transit and EMS are important. But in this case, voters need to be informed of the impact of a sales tax increase. The referendum question implies there will be property tax relief, when in fact it would result in a net tax increase, if you believe their assumptions, of at least $30 to $35 million.
And the voters in Milwaukee County have overwhelmingly responded favorably to my promise to fight to keep their taxes low.
Back when the County Board proposed their $130 million tax increase, I held a news conference at a local camera shop. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, Independent Business Association of Wisconsin, Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors and the Wisconsin Merchants Federation all joined me in opposition to this measure.
Each of them viewed the $130 million tax increase as detrimental to the business climate and echoed my warning that a new sales tax that is a full 1.5 percent higher than several of our neighbors – the highest in the state – would create a tax island.
The resulting negative economic impact would erase efforts these groups make to attract businesses and people to our area.
The cost of doing business must be addressed to keep jobs here. We can not turn to increasing taxes on our already strapped taxpayers as a first resort in meeting our fiscal challenges. An increased sales tax is not a solution to property tax relief, and no guarantees are in place that the increase will remain dedicated to parks, transit and EMS. The current board of supervisors can not by law tie the hands of a future board relating to the budget process.
The choice is not to either raise taxes or cut services. We need to demand greater innovation from our government to maintain necessary programs and quality of life assets.
Implementing a Park District, seeking public-private partnerships like the popular Red Arrow Park and Bradford Beach vendors, and exploring a lease of Mitchell International Airport to fund improved transit options that enable our residents to get to work are creative, exciting opportunities for our county and region.
Keep an open mind to new ideas that can save money and provide better services in order to spur the economy and improve our future. These are better alternatives than a $130 million tax increase.
Scott Walker is the county executive of Milwaukee County.