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Gov. Evers tours Racine's public safety building, urges support for shared revenue plan

Gov. Evers in Racine
Chuck Quirmbach
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (center) and State Revenue Secretary Peter Barca (right) listen, as Racine Mayor Cory Mason (left) points to ceiling decay in the Racine Police Department garage.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is touring Wisconsin, trying to gain support for several key state budget proposals he announced last week. Monday, the Democrat stopped in Racine to talk about his plan to steer more than $500 million in additional state aid to local governments. Republicans controlling the state Legislature won't commit to the idea.

Many local governments across Wisconsin say they've suffered over the last decade or more as money from the state, known as shared revenue, has declined or not kept up with inflation. Officials from Milwaukee and Milwaukee County have been particularly outspoken. But other local officials are speaking up too — sometimes saying they've haven't been able to maintain buildings.

At the roughly 60-year-old Racine Public Safety complex Monday, Fire Chief Steve Hansen told Evers how parked fire trucks weighing up to 80,000 pounds cause the older garage floor and nearby walls to sag.

Evers looking at the floor
Chuck Quirmbach
Gov. Tony Evers looks on, as Racine Mayor Cory Mason and Fire Chief Steve Hansen (right) point to a sagging floor and wall supports in the fire department garage.

"Over a long time, like anything, if it keeps flexing, eventually, something's going to happen to the substrate, and we want to be cognizant of that," Hansen told the governor.

Evers also toured a police garage that appeared to have severe mold and other problems.

Racine Mayor Cory Mason said his city's police and fire departments have other concerns, too — like maintaining staffing.

"We have nine positions in the fire department that are funded with a federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant. When that money runs out in a couple years, it is not clear at all to us how we will maintain that funding. We have five positions in the police department that are currently funded with a federal grant through ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act.) Again, when that money runs out, it's not at all clear how we will maintain that. And we are two years into tough negotiations with the police and fire unions, in part because we have less resources than we would like to have, to give those officers and public safety officials the raises they deserve," Mason said, at a news conference after the tour.

Police Chief Maurice Robinson talking
Chuck Quirmbach
Racine Police Chief Maurice Robinson speaks to Barca, Evers and Mason, following Monday's news conference.

So, Mason said his city would welcome the additional $12 million a year Racine would receive under the governor's shared revenue proposal.

Evers currently wants to pay for his plan by sending 20% of the state’s sales tax revenue back to local communities.

But he told reporters he's somewhat open to other funding sources. "There might be some wiggle room as far as what pot this money comes from. That's relatively irrelevant. What we do need is to make sure the money gets there. I believe we're going to have success, and I believe that success will be high," Evers said.

Robin Vos at a news conference
WisconsinEye screenshot
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speaking at a news conference.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos represents other parts of Racine County. His spokesperson did not make Vos available for an interview. Instead, she referred WUWM to a WisconsinEye video of a GOP news conference from last week, as Evers introduced his budget. Despite Republicans months ago talking about using sales tax revenue to help local governments, Vos said he's not on board with the governor.

"I think our plan is dramatically different.  It's to use state resources. It hasn't been finalized yet. We're still working on some of the details," he said.

Vos said Evers' overall budget proposal would cause property taxes to rise.

Eventually, presumably this spring, Republicans and Evers will cut a deal. Or they'll continue to hear calls for financial help from local officials who look at the state's projected $7 billion surplus.

Editor's note: Audio of Rep. Robin Vos came from WisconsinEye.