Wisconsin GOP leader threatens to pull Milwaukee funding from plan unless deal reached

By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Wednesday that if no deal is reached this week on a massive bill increasing state aid to local governments across the state, he would support removing all provisions related to Milwaukee and moving ahead without them.

Milwaukee city and county officials, facing insolvency as soon as 2025, have been pushing for a deal that would both increase state aid and take those payments from state sales tax revenue for the first time. But negotiations have stalled over a disagreement about who determines whether the Milwaukee city and county can raise the local sales tax to pay for pension costs and emergency services.

“I feel like if we want to get something done, it’s going to be this week,” the Republican Vos said at a news conference.

If that doesn’t happen, Vos said he wanted to proceed with everything else in the bill, including aid for all other counties, cities, towns and villages, other than Milwaukee.

“That is not my first option,” Vos said. “We want to try and get this across the finish line.”

Vos’s suggestion threatens the increase in aid for Milwaukee. County and city leaders have warned of dire consequences, including deep cuts to police, fire protection and emergency services.

“My city is on a path to catastrophic budget cuts,” Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson told lawmakers last month.

Vos, who said last month he was “done negotiating” on the issue after the Assembly passed a local government aid bill three weeks ago, met on Monday with fellow Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

LeMahieu has said that Senate Republicans want to give Milwaukee’s governing boards the ability to raise the sales tax, rather than requiring a vote of the people as the Assembly bill does. But LeMahieu said on WISN-TV on Sunday that he didn’t have enough votes to remove that citizen vote requirement.

Vos insisted on Wednesday that he did not want to change that vote requirement, but “I’ve been in this job long enough to say never say never.”

Evers told reporters earlier on Wednesday during a stop in Racine that he was optimistic a deal would be reached this week. His spokesperson did not immediately return a message seeking reaction to Vos’s remarks. LeMahieu left the floor of the state Senate on Wednesday without commenting to reporters.

The failure to reach a deal is leading the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee to pause its work after Thursday, the panel’s co-chairman Rep. Mark Born said.

Many of the funding decisions the committee needs to make are contingent on how much money lawmakers approve for aid to local governments. The committee has yet to tackle some of the biggest ticket items, including transportation, K-12 funding and tax cuts.

The wide-ranging government aid bill as passed by the Assembly increases state aid to all towns, cities, villages and counties by at least 15%, except for Milwaukee which would have increases capped at 10% but with the ability to raise more through sales taxes.

In a significant change to current law, aid to local governments, known as shared revenue, would be paid for with 20% of the money the state collects from the sales tax. Future increases in aid would then be tied to sales tax, rather than requiring the Legislature to vote on increasing it.

Shared revenue to local governments has remained nearly unchanged for almost 30 years and was cut in 2004, 2010 and 2012.