During the second quarter the Forum completed two more fire and EMS service sharing studies (one for the villages of Union Grove and Yorkville and the other for the City of Milton). When added to the three we completed in the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 (for municipalities in Jefferson, La Crosse, and Ozaukee counties), that makes five in less than a year. Continue reading…
Our detailed report on the progress of police reform efforts in Milwaukee – Taking Stock – has received considerable attention since its release in early June. It was the subject of lengthy news articles by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Urban Milwaukee and also was featured on WUWM’s Lake Effect and Wisconsin PBS’ Noon Wednesday. Our researchers also will be presenting it to a group of community stakeholders organized by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in early July.
But more important than the media and public attention has been the reaction of the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD). As reported by Wisconsin Public Radio, subsequent to review of a report draft earlier this spring, MPD leaders began work on a new policy to strengthen whistleblower protections for officers who report misconduct by fellow officers.
The new policy – which is anticipated to come before the Fire and Police Commission this summer – responds to our finding that peer cities had stronger and more explicit protections for whistleblowers than MPD. We are also pleased to report that MPD leaders are considering responses to other important report findings, including the lack of civilian participation in reviewing critical incidents and the need to further improve reporting to the public.
In a recent Focus, we looked at the remarkable opportunity presented by new revenue estimates that projected the state would take in $4.4 billion more in tax collections through June 2023 than previously expected. We put forward a series of fiscally responsible but far-reaching policy options – from reforming the state’s school funding formula to simplifying the tax code – that policymakers could consider in light of this new money.
Though we certainly cannot take credit, we are pleased that Republicans on the state’s Joint Finance Committee have taken several steps in recent days that correspond to the options we presented. These include using income and sales tax dollars to help replenish the state’s unemployment fund, making a deposit to the state’s rainy day fund, and creating a state income tax credit for child care expenses. These proposals have now been approved by the Assembly and Senate and go to Gov. Tony Evers for his signature, veto, or partial veto.
Other options in our Focus have yet to be taken up including rethinking state aid to schools and local governments and efforts to address worker shortages through increased support for higher education. A proposed income tax cut might also conflict with prohibitions on using federal pandemic aid to help pay for state tax cuts – a possibility we noted in our brief. The Forum will continue to monitor and write about these issues as the governor considers his own action.
In April, we focused on the 2021-23 state budget. Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan and State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, joined us to discuss our state budget brief and shared their views on the impending, high-stakes debate on the state’s next two-year spending plan.
In June, we focused on Wisconsin’s post-pandemic transportation future. How and when we travel has changed in the last 15 months, and there are plenty of questions about whether those changes will last, which transportation investments will be most effective, and how to create sustainable transportation and transit revenue structures. Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson, MCTS President Dan Boehm, and City of Green Bay Transit Director Patty Kiewiz joined us to explore these questions.
Many thanks again to our series sponsors who support our virtual Forum Friday discussions.
Digital Divide for Small Businesses: Our work last year looking at the digital divide for Wisconsin students led us to examine access to technology for small business owners in the city of Milwaukee. This study, supported by the Greater Milwaukee Committee, is delving into technology gaps and barriers facing business owners as well as racial disparities in their access to and use of these tools.
Higher Education: As part of our collaboration with the Higher Education Regional Alliance, we will publish a pair of reports looking at trends in graduates at HERA institutions in the key health care and education fields. This follows a report earlier this year on graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields. We will also follow up on our December report on the University of Wisconsin System and UW-Madison with a study focusing on the pressing fiscal and enrollment challenges facing UW-Milwaukee.
State Budget: We will continue to watch carefully the ongoing deliberations on the state budget, which as we noted in June has been boosted by an unexpected upward revision of projected tax revenues totaling $4.4 billion. The Forum will take care to explain the state budget implications for local governments the way we recently did for school districts and local transit agencies.
Local Finance: As we do every year, we will update two of our popular online interactives – the Municipal DataTool on city and village finances and Property Values and Taxes. This year we are writing code to streamline the data cleaning and analysis – a step we hope will make us more efficient in this project and other aspects of our work.
We’re excited to introduce our newest team members. Welcome to the Forum!
Sara Shaw is our Senior Education Researcher. A veteran education policy advisor and former teacher, Sara will lead our extensive education research portfolio on issues pertaining to the entire early childhood to K-12 to higher education continuum and will be a key contributor to our analyses of school district and state finances and budgets. Sara holds an M.A. in education from Marquette University, an A.B. in comparative literature from Princeton University, and a certificate in education finance from Georgetown University.
Ethan Kenney is our summer graduate research intern. Ethan is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is working on a variety of local government projects including a study of the Milwaukee County parks system and a report on state general transportation aids to cities, villages, towns, and counties.
Arden He is our summer undergraduate research intern. Arden is currently pursuing a triple Major in Mathematical Economics, Data Science, & Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. They are working to update our metro Milwaukee Innovation DataTool, which tracks the region’s performance on a range of indicators tied to economic vitality.