Wisconsin’s local governments may someday have to choose between police and fixing potholes, unless the state changes the way those governments are funded. That’s according to new study by Milwaukee’s Public Policy Forum, which says cities are running out of ways to pay their bills and it blames state restrictions. The study looked at Milwaukee’s finances, but Policy Forum president Rob Henken said every local government in Wisconsin faces the same problems – state aid that has not risen in 12 years, higher property taxes than the national average, and upsetting taxpayers with new fees while raising others up to 100-percent in recent years.
Public safety accounts for the largest chunk of Milwaukee’s cost. Of that, 80-percent of fire and police budgets are made up of personnel costs that continue to rise as health insurance gets more expensive. Henken says this problem is seen all over southeastern Wisconsin in both the private and public sector. Scaling back public safety services, or curbing pay or benefits for fire and police, would be a challenging task if city leaders decided to do so.
The report said Milwaukee is managed well, but the state restricts what cities can do to increase revenues.