Sunday, December 11th, 2016

I haven’t seen a conversion like this since Saul’s trip to Damascus

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Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has suddenly found religion. It’s a miracle, I tell you, a miracle.

For the first time since he was elected, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is trying to craft a city budget that doesn’t raise either property taxes or major user fees – right in the middle of his campaign for governor.

Barrett and his aides say the zero-tax-increase goal isn’t politically motivated and has more to do with the economy and the city pension fund than the election.

“The economic recovery has been slow and people are still hurting,” Barrett said Tuesday.

But Barrett, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, will introduce his 2011 budget just 5 1/2 weeks before state voters go to the polls Nov. 2. Republicans have been pounding away at the theme that he’s raised taxes every year as mayor. And one of the candidates seeking the GOP nomination, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, has recommended zero-tax-increase county budgets every year he’s been in office, although the County Board has nonetheless raised taxes over Walker’s vetoes.

“Obviously, it’s an incredible election-year conversion for a guy who’s proposed a property tax increase every year,” said Walker, who will face former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann in the Sept. 14 Republican primary. “It would have been nice for him to act on this sooner, so the people of Milwaukee didn’t have to suffer so much.”

Neumann sounded a similar theme, saying, “Better late than never. . . . The bottom line is that he’s increased spending 31% in his first five budgets. The only place government gets money is from the taxpayers . . . and they’re the ones who are paying for it.”

Yeah, I see it now. Next Barrett will be inviting Grover Norquist in to give speeches at campaign rallies.

Before Barrett starts on his born-again “no new taxes” gospel, let’s take a look at the record. The MacIver Institute did a comparison of Barrett’s budget last year to Scott Walker’s budget last year. Last year Barrett proposed increasing the tax rate by 10 percent (per $1,000 of assessed value) to $8.90. Barrett also proposed increasing the tax levy by 4.4 percent. Barrett proposed increasing the solid waste fee from approximately $150 to $170 a year for an increase of 13%. The sewer fee increased 10.5% and the storm water fee had a 19% increase. (By the way, how’s MMSD doing these days with that extra money? Oops.)

Barrett claims that economic conditions this year have made him suddenly see the light about raising taxes. Of course, all of the economic conditions we’re facing now were also in place last year. Barrett must not have read the Psalm of Obama that said this year is better than last year, and that next year will be better still. Nope, Barrett’s going to forge his own path, trashing the very economy that is under Democratic control, and promising not to raise taxes.

But don’t worry, Barrett’s not really going to keep that promise. “At this point, holding the line on taxes and fees is a goal, not a commitment, city budget director Mark Nicolini said.”

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