Juggling Priorities

Comparing the Budgets of Wisconsin’s Largest Communities

December 2018


The fierce fiscal challenges facing the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are well documented and include growing pension costs, vast infrastructure repair needs, and stagnant revenue streams. A comparison with other large cities and counties in Wisconsin finds some similarity on spending pressures, but a more difficult fiscal climate overall in Milwaukee.

Fall is busy season for municipal and county officials across Wisconsin. Proposed budgets become public in late September or October, public debate and amendments ensue, and a final budget typically is adopted sometime in November.

Fall is a busy time for the Wisconsin Policy Forum as well. For the past decade, we have published annual analyses of the proposed City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County budgets to provide an objective assessment for the general public and to highlight for decision-makers the key issues they should be contemplating as budget deliberations ensue. Our 2019 budget briefs were released
in mid-October.

In this issue of The Wisconsin Taxpayer, we reflect on key themes arising from our review of those budgets and consider their relevance to other large cities and counties in Wisconsin. Both the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County have faced fierce fiscal pressures as a consequence of growing pension costs and infrastructure needs and limited revenue options. Both governments
have responded by redesigning their health care offerings, raising fees, and asking many of their departments to make do with less.

Are the factors that have converged to create such strong fiscal pressures in Milwaukee similarly impacting other big city and county governments in Wisconsin? Using data collected by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and 2019 proposed budgets from cities and counties across the state, we attempt to shed light on that question. continue reading…

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