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GOP shared revenue bill undermines democracy in Milwaukee
Guest column from Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) and Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT).
The Recombobulation Area is a
six-time TEN-TIME Milwaukee Press Club award-winning weekly opinion column and online publication written and published by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
Guest column from Milwaukee-based organizations Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) and Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT).
In Wisconsin, counties and municipalities are running out of money, facing ever-increasing budgetary shortfalls. These shortfalls mean very real consequences for Wisconsinites from Ashland to Kenosha, from Eau Claire to Milwaukee. Without sufficient funding, citizens everywhere will feel the effects and see a lower quality of life. How did we end up here? Through the state’s broken shared revenue system.
You may have heard about the shared revenue fight happening right now in Madison. It’s a bill with statewide reach, but a big piece of it is to get state help for Milwaukee’s financial crisis. For those who don’t know, this has been a fight for several years that is now coming to a head.
Recently, Republican leadership in Madison finally expressed a desire to help Milwaukee, but naturally, it doesn’t come without strings attached. This is the same party that continues to use dog whistles when it comes to Milwaukee and often attacks the city in policy and legislation.
It is no surprise that this issue does not have a quick fix, however, the solution being put forth is one that Republicans in Madison are using to hold our city hostage. It is a solution in search of problems—things such as putting cops back in schools, telling the mayor and the alders (not to mention community member’s voices) that city budgets can’t even include the option of cutting the police budget, in addition to gutting the authority of the Fire and Police Commission.
Let us be clear: This is another facet of a continued attack on democracy in the state’s most diverse county by undermining our voices.
Milwaukee stands apart from the rest of Wisconsin for a few reasons. It is the most populous city in the state, as well as the economic capital of the state. But for perplexing reasons, the city often finds itself in the crosshairs by Republican elected leaders when legislation is written.
Milwaukee is also one more type of capital for the state of Wisconsin—it is the most diverse. The melting pot of Wisconsin, Milwaukee sets itself apart by having a Black Mayor, a Black Sheriff, a Black Superintendent, and Black County Executive. It is home to many of the New American Majority. The diversity this city holds is hard to ignore when legislation like AB 245 (the shared revenue bill) is introduced—tying policies that have nothing to do with addressing the funding crisis that looms over localities around the state.
For instance, no longer having cops in Milwaukee Public Schools has already been decided by the school board, a democratically elected body. Our mayor makes appointments to the Fire and Police Commission. Undermining these actions are examples of how democracy in the state’s most diverse county is under attack — an attack from a party who claims to value local control, apparently as long as the county isn’t especially Black and Brown.
In June of 2020, the Milwaukee Public School Board of Directors voted unanimously – and democratically – to sever contracts between the school district and the Milwaukee Police Department. This historic decision did not happen overnight. Members of Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) spent years organizing community members and lobbying MPS administration and Board Directors to remove a police presence in schools. Young people attended countless school board meetings, lobbied Board Directors, shared personal testimonies, and even took direct action to finally persuade stakeholders and the MPS community of their right to feel safe and not be further criminalized in their schools.
Since then, Republicans have been scrambling to re-integrate police into majority Black and Brown school districts. In 2022 it was via AB 969. Earlier this year it was via AB 69, and now it’s through a “shared revenue” proposal that would force an already underfunded MPS to pay for one third of the cost.
If conservatives are so concerned about the safety of students, they should be rallying behind Governor Evers’ historic budget proposal to invest $2.6 billion in K-12 public education. The “small government” party should be defending the decision that local elected officials made via a democratic process.
We need to be clear on who is holding our city hostage.
Currently, Republican leaders in Madison, with the help of groups like the Milwaukee Police Association (MPA), are working to block a new policy on body cameras from going into effect. Last month, the Fire and Police Commission voted to have the Milwaukee Police Department release body camera footage within 15 days of a critical incident. Immediately after the passage of the policy, we saw MPA attack organizers and activists in the press, and then help Republicans try to cut the Fire and Police Commission – as a direct result of the advocacy and organizing from families and groups like the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.
Why is MPA teaming up with Republicans on this shared revenue package? Because, they too, are trying to undermine democracy in a diverse city. Why are they at the table when groups like LIT who fought to remove cops from schools are not? We should be concerned about how much influence the police unions have gotten, especially around issues that have already been voted on and gone through a democratic process. The police union is attempting to exert influence over policy decisions regarding their very oversight. It is the continuation of a troubling trend; if authority of oversight is removed from the Fire and Police Commission, who will police the police?
The Governor said to send him a clean bill without these restrictions or he will veto it in its current form. That is the correct decision. Given the dire financial situation communities around the state are facing, Republican leadership should remove these items from the bill.
The voices of our community as well as those we elect should be heard loud and clear. On May 5 at a press conference outside of MPS Central office, there was a strong response against some of these provisions.
Our voices and our elected officials' votes should be honored, and not undone by Republicans in Madison with an agenda. We can fix our financial crisis without sliding in anti-democratic and white supremacist provisions that only further hurt Milwaukee.
This guest column was written by Angela Lang, executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) and Cendi Tena, co-executive Director of Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT).
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