Milwaukee County Supervisors Throw Out Proposed Wheel Tax Increase

Nov 6, 2017

The Milwaukee County Board on Monday overwhelmingly passed a budget that does not include a $30 wheel tax that County Executive Chris Abele proposed. Instead, supervisors voted on a budget that they say relies on efficiencies to help make up for a shortfall.

County Executive Abele had proposed doubling the wheel tax brining the cost to $60 as a way to generate more revenue in Milwaukee County. That's despite the fact that earlier this year, voters rejected an advisory referendum asking if they would support a $60 wheel tax. County Supervisor Steve Taylor says this was the most difficult budget he ever had to approve. He referred to the referendum results before casting his vote.

“That’s because we were put in a position where we were asked to ignore the will of the voters from this past April. And as a result, this body had to be creative,” Taylor says.

Instead of relying on a wheel tax to raise revenue, county supervisors asked each department to make cuts. The board voted to restore $200,000 for senior centers, and to set aside $10,000 to tackle sex trafficking and $90,000 for youth training programs, with the hope of lowering the incarceration rate.

Many supervisors said they were frustrated with the budget. Supervisor John Weishan says he expects county residents and others to find fault with the spending plan. He argues that state lawmakers are to blame, because they've made deep cuts in shared revenue payments.

“The people who cut your bus route are sitting in Madison. If the people in Waukesha are upset because we added a non-residency fee to the Domes, complain to Scott Walker and your state reps who forced us to do that. And if this summer, if your swimming pool closes, it’s the same thing. Call the people in Madison because we’ve done the best we can with this terrible budget,” Weishan says.

Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman agrees that a lot of the county's budget challenges can be blamed on state government. But he says residents also have to take some responsibility for funding programs and services. He says his constituents supported County Executive Abele's proposed increase in the wheel tax.

Wasserman says people need to understand that there are no free rides. “They want services and they know you have to pay for it. There are some who don’t feel that we have to pay for anything, that Santa Clause is coming, well Santa Clause doesn’t exist. You have to raise revenues."

And, he says, the county must look at ways to raise revenue. Wasserman says he's tried to get revenue-generating ideas approved in the last two budgets.

County Executive Abele issued a statement in response to the board's version of the budget. He says he won't veto it, because he respects the County Board's policy authority. But Abele says he won't sign the document, either. He says he's concerned about the board's $15 million in service cuts to transit, public safety, parks and social services.