Dem guv candidates at Milwaukee forum say they’ll work to boost local governments’ revenues

Dem gubernatorial candidates during a Milwaukee forum today said they would help local communities improve their budget pictures through increased shared revenue and local flexibility to raise revenues.  

The candidates at the forum, hosted by Milwaukee County Exec Chris Abele, appeared in groups of four and answered a series of questions on issues related to the county, all of which were provided to candidates before the event.

The first group included State Superintendent Tony Evers, activist Mike McCabe, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Sen. Kathleen Vinehout. The second group included attorney Matt Flynn, state firefighters union head Mahlon Mitchell, former state Rep. Kelda Roys and attorney Josh Pade.

Although the candidates took shots at Gov. Scott Walker, they refrained from criticizing each other.

Evers said the disparity in the reliance on property taxes in Milwaukee versus other metropolitan areas in the country is “huge.”

“Obviously, the state has to take step up in this arena,” Evers said.

To alleviate that, he said the state should increase what it sends back to local taxpayers based on the level of state-mandated services. He said aid should also be increased based on inflation. Additionally, he proposed changing tax incremental financing districts so local governments can access benefits sooner and eliminating the so-called “dark store loophole” that allows retailers to pay lower property taxes than those with other similarly sized properties.

Roys said the state has taken away local control over things such as levy limits, regional transportation planning and residency requirements.

“We need to let local communities, whether it’s Milwaukee or small communities all over the state, have more of a say and repair that link between local decision-makers having control over policy and being able to fund the needs of the community,” Roys said.

She also called for a fair funding model so communities get a fair share of the the funds returned they are paying in.

Flynn said he would work to stop the Foxconn deal, take federal Medicaid expansion dollars, get funding for the rail project Walker canceled, and eliminate the agricultural and manufacturing tax exemption.

“That’s a lot of money,” Flynn said. “And a lot of that money is going to start coming back in shared revenues.”

Flynn also said that money would be used to fund, partially or fully, unfunded mandates in courts, mental health and possibly other areas.

Mitchell stressed the need for local control, and said more money needs to be sent back to local governments and they need to be allowed to set their own levy levels.

“We need to empower our local officials, not handcuff them,” Mitchell said.

Vinehout proposed boosting state-shared revenue by 30 percent, which she said would be a $415 increase in the next budget.

“Let me remind you, if that payment seems steep, it’s less than the estimated $464 million in the first budget payment to Foxconn,” Vinehout said.

She also said she would establish a commission to change the shared revenue formula so it is based on need.

McCabe said the state needs to restore its commitment to shared revenue and local governments should be allowed to decide how they want to raise revenues.

“We have to give local officials the elbow room to operate and meet the needs of their communities,” McCabe said. “Instead our state has put local officials in straitjackets.”  

Soglin said the needs-based portion of shared revenue should be shifted from being based on property values to being based on poverty levels.

He said he attempted to work with Milwaukee on the issue to no avail.

“I’m sorry to say I turned to Milwaukee; I couldn’t get any help here,” Soglin said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t fix the problem now.”

Soglin also said the majority of school funding needs to be taken off of the property tax rolls.

Pade said the state should restore shared revenue and that communities like Milwaukee should be allowed to raise the revenues they need.

Pade said it’s important in setting shared revenue policy it’s demonstrated how communities’ economies are tied together.

“Showing that out to them, there’s credibility so that someone from Eau Claire doesn’t feel like their tax dollars are going straight to Milwaukee,” Pade said.