Barrett to Walker: Don’t tell city how to spend
Budget provisions restrict funds to improve biz districts
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is asking Gov. Scott Walker to veto provisions in the new state budget that restrict state and city funding for the downtown streetcar, as well as local funds used to improve neighborhood business districts.
Barrett also wants Walker to veto another item that would nearly double the land for which Marquette University pays no property taxes.
The streetcar funding restrictions appear to be largely symbolic. Milwaukee isn’t funding that project through either of the two methods covered by the budget provision.
But the item on business improvement districts would reduce the amount that districts can raise for activities such as downtown Milwaukee’s Holiday Lights Festival. And the Marquette provision could shift a greater property tax burden to Milwaukee businesses and residents.
All three measures amount to an overreach by the state Legislature into local control, Barrett said Saturday.
“It’s a gratuitous kick at the city,” he said.
The governor has agreed to veto some budget items, but his final veto list hasn’t been released yet, said Tom Evenson, Walker’s spokesman. The Senate on Friday night approved the delayed 2017’19 state budget, which Walker is expected to sign soon. The budget includes:
A ban on Milwaukee using state transit aid or local funds generated through tax incremental financing districts to pay for streetcar operations. Tax financing districts use property taxes generated by new development, which diverts that revenue from a city’s general fund, its school district, county and other local governments.
However, Milwaukee isn’t using either funding method barred by the state budget, Barrett said.
The streetcar’s 2.5-mile initial route, to start in fall 2018, runs from the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, 433 W. St. Paul Ave., through downtown to the lower east side. It includes a lakefront loop set to open in 2019.
The $128 million construction budget for the streetcar is funded with a $55 million federal grant and money generated by Milwaukee tax financing districts. The estimated $3.2 million annual operating budget will be covered by fares, advertising revenue, federal grants and cash from city parking meters and parking lots.
Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) sponsored the funding ban. He said in a statement it is needed to stop a “looming threat” that the streetcar would seek state cash.
Limits on raising cash by Milwaukee’s business improvement districts, key tools in redeveloping downtown and other neighborhoods.
The districts are formed by commercial property owners, who pay additional special charges on their annual property tax bills for items such as marketing campaigns and events for the district’s stores and restaurants; street cleaning, landscaping and other beautification efforts, and security services.
While buildings with just apartments are exempt, some of those special charges come from buildings that have a mix of apartments and street-level commercial space.
The new state budget says that charge can be based only on the value of the mixed-use property’s commercial space — and not the
entire building’s larger value.
That would reduce the amount of funds paid to the districts, with the downtown Milwaukee district taking a roughly 2% annual hit, said Beth Weirick, executive director.
If that restriction is to be enacted, it should apply to business improvement districts throughout Wisconsin — not just to Milwaukee, Barrett said.
The Journal Sentinel has not been able to determine which legislator sponsored the provision.
» An expansion of Marquette University’s grounds that are exempt from property taxes from 80 acres to 150 acres.
Barrett said that budget item might be tied to Marquette’s planned Athletic Performance Research Center, to be developed on 12 acres bordered by W. Michigan, W. Clybourn, N. 6th and N. 10th streets. Marquette and Aurora Health Care Inc. in January 2016 announced plans for the $120 million development.
That provision “came out of the blue,” Barrett said. He said it was discouraging given that city officials have helped Marquette pursue the research center’s development and have invested in public improvements near campus.
“It’s as if local government does not exist and local tax base is unimportant,” Barrett said in his letter to Walker. “I am certain that had we been contacted, a solution could have been reached.”
The expansion of Marquette’s tax-exempt campus would allow it to increase its contributions to the city and state, said Marquette spokesman Brian Dorrington. Those include its community dental clinics and the university police department, he said.
Dorrington, in a statement, said most states “do not place any acreage limitations on tax-exempt property for educational, non-profit religious or charitable purposes.”
That provision was sponsored by Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), who cited Marquette’s civic contributions, according to an Associated Press report.
Funding for Milwaukee’s streetcar would be restricted under the new state budget. Mayor Tom Barrett is asking Gov. Scott Walker to veto that item and other provisions aimed at Wisconsin’s largest city.