Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu at a press conference on the Assembly floor announcing a shared revenue deal between Republican legislators and Gov. Tony Evers on June 8, 2023 | Wisconsin Examiner photo
Republican leaders in the Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers announced a deal Thursday to send more money to local governments from the state, including to the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.
As part of the agreement, Republicans agreed to boost public school spending by $1 billion while increasing per-pupil funding for charter schools as well as for private schools under the umbrella of the state’s school choice programs.
The proposed legislation would also impose a number of new restrictions on local governments that have been part of a bill that passed the Assembly in May without Democratic votes. Those include requiring school districts to hire police officers — a practice that some districts have rejected in the last several years.
For Milwaukee, the proposal includes language that sets a minimum number of sworn officers in the city’s police department as well as a minimum number of firefighters. The proposal also would weaken the authority of the city’s Fire and Police Commission, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) told reporters at a Capitol news conference attended by Republican leaders and lawmakers in both houses.
The news conference was held for Vos, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and other Republican members of the Legislature to outline the agreement.
Evers announced the deal separately, in a press release he sent just before the GOP press conference started. “After working through much of last night, I have reached a tentative agreement with both Majority Leader LeMahieu and Speaker Vos on major provisions of a compromise on shared revenue that will mean historic increases in support for our local communities across Wisconsin,” Evers said.
As outlined in both the governor’s release and the Republicans’ news conference, the proposal includes:
- An increase in the state’s aid to communities by 20%.
- Authorization for the city of Milwaukee to institute a 2% sales tax and Milwaukee County to institute a 0.4% sales tax, if approved by their respective governing bodies by a two-thirds vote. Republicans dropped an earlier demand that would have made the taxes subject to voter approval through a local referendum.
- A $1 billion increase in state aid to public K-12 schools, raising the per-pupil aid by $325 per year in the first year and again in the second year.
- A per-pupil aid increase for independent charter and private voucher schools.
- A $97 million increase in special education funding, which Evers said would bring the state’s reimbursement rate to 33% of a district’s special education costs.
- Raising the cap on revenue school districts may raise from local property taxpayers to $11,000 per student from $10,000.
- $50 million set aside to improve reading and literacy for K-12 students. (Earlier Thursday, Republicans announced a literacy plan they said continued provisions approved by the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), but schools superintendent Jill Underly released a statement shortly afterwards saying DPI opposed the plan. Evers’ press release said details are still being worked out.)
- $30 million to be spent on school-based mental health services around the state.
- Repeal of the personal property tax on all business property.
The shared revenue deal “directs all shared revenue to be used for local law enforcement, fire, EMS [emergency medical services], public works and transportation,” said Rep. Alex Dallman (R-Green Lake). “It cannot go towards growing government.”
The Milwaukee sales tax is projected to generate $184 million, said Rep Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc), and the Milwaukee County portion will be $76 million. The money “must be used” to address pension liabilities and for law enforcement, fire protection, emergency services, transportation and public works, he said. As part of the deal, the current police pension program will be closed to new department hires, who will instead be enrolled in the Wisconsin state retirement system.
Kurtz said the proposal also transfers policymaking power from the city’s Fire and Police Commission to the Milwaukee police chief, curtailing the civilian oversight board’s power.
Milwaukee Public Schools must place 25 school resource police officers in schools, under the terms of the agreement, said Rep. Barb Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc). Schools will also be required to track criminal activity on their grounds, she said.
Vos called the $1 billion in new school funding “a historic investment” in public schools, and said the same of the $285 million increase in state payments to voucher and charter schools. Per-pupil funding will rise to $9,500 for private voucher schools and $11,000 for charter schools.
Evers’ announcement emphasized the increases in school funding and stressed that the agreement was the product of compromise.
Other items remain in the new proposal that had been in the earlier Republican bill from the start. Those include a restriction on public health authorities’ ability to close down businesses in a health emergency, restrictions on local advisory referendums and a ban on local governments across the state from “race-based hiring,” which Vos equated with the term “DEI,” or diversity, equity and inclusion.
Vos said the Republicans’ decision to give up on demanding that the city and county take their tax increases to voters for approval produced “some heartburn in our caucus” but the overall proposal’s provisions contained “enough conservative wins” to balance that.
“I think if you are a conservative Republican in the state of Wisconsin today, you should be incredibly proud of the work the Legislature has done on your behalf,” he said.
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