'Everybody said this was impossible': Cavalier Johnson and David Crowley reflect on passing shared revenue and local sales tax deal
From The Recombobulation Area’s extended interview with the mayor and county executive.
The Recombobulation Area is a ten-time Milwaukee Press Club award-winningweekly opinion column and online publication written, edited and published by longtime Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
As 2023 comes to a close, The Recombobulation Area was joined by both Mayor Cavalier Johnson and County Executive David Crowley for an extended sit-down interview.
That full video is available online here, exclusively at The Recombobulation Area.
As Crowley put it, this has been a “historic year” for Milwaukee. Much of that had to do with Act 12, the shared revenue reform and local sales tax bill that was passed into law at the state level, and later adopted by City and County government.
Going into those negotiations, said Johnson, “there were people who said…it’s never going to happen.”
Said Crowley, “We can honestly say that the mayor and I, when we first got elected, everybody said that this was impossible.”
Negotiations with Republican leaders in the state legislature, said Johnson, started with a “Hell no” but eventually, added Crowley, went from “hell no to no to I'm going to think about it to OK, we need to have this meeting.”
The bill passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Gov. Tony Evers on June 20.
Johnson said that, without a deal, the outcome for local government in the City of Milwaukee would have been “dystopian.”
“If we did not get this done, then we would have had to eliminate roughly half of the Milwaukee Police Department, we would have had to eliminate more than a quarter of the Milwaukee Fire Department, our library system would have looked extremely different, probably would have not even really existed,” he said. “And we would have lost, as well, several hundred other employees that deliver services across our community. So that was a future, a dystopian future that we did not want to see. And so we had to go in there and we had to get this done. And that's exactly what we were able to do.”
In our interview, both leaders discussed in detail the work they did at the capitol in Madison and across the state to build support for this deal. Crowley and Johnson said their first meeting together on the issue signified a real turning point, with both newly-elected leaders recognizing the importance and urgency of getting a deal done.
Johnson and Crowley also discussed their relationship working together on these negotiations, which both leaders characterized in overwhelmingly positive terms.
“Quite frankly, I'm not sure if you can go anywhere in the state or anywhere in the country and have this working level of relationship between a county executive and the city mayor,” said Crowley.
Asked if there's anything they disagree on, Johnson and Crowley pointed to some disagreement over who is contributing more between the City and County during negotiations over the deal to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee, but they were eventually able to find a solution, where neither unit of local government is bearing costs over the course of the deal.
“We had a disagreement on that,” said Johnson. “But we continued to talk about it. And we worked together and we got ourselves in a position where you, for us, for the city of Milwaukee, the amount of money, the amount of dollars that our taxpayers have to spend is effectively zero. It's nothing. Because we continued to work together and support each other and find an effective way to get this done.”
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You can watch the full video interview with Johnson and Crowley here on Substack.
You can also watch it on YouTube.
The full conversation is also available here at The Recombobulation Area as a podcast, which you can listen to here.
Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He’s also written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Heartland Signal, Belt Magazine, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s won 17 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
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