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Milwaukee mayor partially vetoes council's budget; library and fire funding cause stalemate

Milwaukee's mayor and Common Council are haggling over the 2023 budget, and libraries and fire engines are at the forefront of the problem.
City of Milwaukee
Posted at 12:28 PM, Nov 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-11 14:03:03-05

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson has partially vetoed the Common Council's version of the 2023 city budget, writing to lawmakers on Friday that he "takes no pleasure in staffing cuts" but that "we simply do not have good choices."

The mayor sent the budget to the council last week, and the council returned it to the mayor's desk with some amendments.

On Friday, Johnson told aldermen and alderwomen that he is vetoing portions of the amended budget because they "disrupt changes" to public libraries and the fire department. The Council's budget amendments also "siphon off American Rescue Plan Act money we need to replace lost revenue in our 2024 budget," according to the mayor.

This is the first piece of legislation Johnson has vetoed from the Common Council. The mayor tells lawmakers he wants to compromise by creating substitute language that partially restores library and fire department funding that was reduced in his original budget.

"If I were to accept the changes the Council has submitted," Mayor Johnson writes, "it would place the city in a worse fiscal situation next year and in subsequent years."

"I am not willing to do that," according to Johnson.

Common Council President José Pérez and Finance and Personnel Committee Chair Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic said in response they will take up the mayor's budget veto during a meeting on Nov. 22.

“This is a process like any other. We did our part in adopting the City budget and the Mayor has now done his. We look forward to reviewing his vetoes and continuing to work in the best interests of all residents,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

They explained the Nov. 22 vote will either sustain or override the mayor's vetoes. A two-thirds majority is required to override. If the vetoes are overridden, the 2023 City budget will be adopted as amended by the Common Council; if the vetoes are sustained, another vote will be held.

Read the mayor's revised budget at the bottom of this article.

What is in the 2023 City of Milwaukee budget?

The $1.72 billion budget the Milwaukee Common Council sent to Mayor Cavalier Johnson reversed Johnson's cuts to libraries and the fire department. But lawmakers were aware the mayor could veto the cuts, as he did on Friday.

The budget Johnson originally sent to the Council required a 1 percent reduction in sworn police officers; large cuts in hours and programming at four public libraries; and removing one fire engine at the start of the new year.

Common Council members shot back that residents would not accept worsening public services and more budget cuts. That's especially true, lawmakers said, because of rising costs (in part due to inflation) as well as less federal aid (like the ARPA funds mentioned above) coming into city coffers with the COVID-19 pandemic wrapping up. The new Common Council President, José Pérez, admitted himself there would be problems settling on a budget.

The Common Council sent Mayor Johnson a slightly different budget. The amended budget included $2.5 million for the fire engine and $1.4 million to keep services running at public libraries. The larger budget is in part funded using $2.5 million in ARPA money, as well as delays in pay to new police officers, among other accounting methods.

The amended budget from Council members includes a $311 million property tax levy. That's a 2 percent increase in the tax levy in 2023 compared to 2022, budget documents show.

Read Mayor Johnson's revised budget below:

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