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Milwaukee Mayor talks public safety, sales tax at State of the City address

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson gives his State of the City 2023 speech at the Summerfest grounds.
Eddie Morales
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson gives his State of the City 2023 speech at the Summerfest grounds.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson brought his State of the City address to the Summerfest grounds Monday afternoon.

He talked about poverty, public safety and the economy during his 30-minute speech. Behind Johnson was a sign that read “One Milwaukee,” which served as the theme for the event. Johnson noted some of the economic disparities that officials are focusing on including the lack of quality housing in the city and the hardships affecting Black and Hispanic residents.

"We see that in infant mortality, lead poisoning data and other health metrics," he said. "For example, the Black infant mortality rate is three times higher than that of white infants."

Johnson said officials are focused on replacing the city’s remaining lead service lines within the next 20 years.

"That will reduce by two-thirds our previously estimated time for moving lead laterals in the city," he said. "There’s no question any lead exposure is dangerous to young children and every parent wants their child drinking clean, safe water."

Johnson said reckless driving and crime rates show that some young people are disconnected from societal norms, causing them to act in destructive ways. That’s why his highest priority is to improve public safety. There are four ways that the city is working to reduce reckless driving: tasking city staff with response efforts, increasing accessibility for driver education, changing how roadways work and supporting law enforcement’s traffic safety unit.

Johnson spoke about the future of Milwaukee and how it could look based on Wisconsin’s new shared revenue plan. Some people oppose the rules that state GOP lawmakers put into the measure that put strings on what Milwaukee can do including diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Johnson said he supports the proposed 2% city sales tax, which is now in the hands of the common council.

"For our long term budget prospects, there are reasons to be hopeful, but yet, there’s not certainty," said Johnson. "We only have estimates of the actual revenue we might receive from the sales tax and the new cost associated with pension changes adds to the uncertainty."

Johnson said what is certain is that the city’s fiscal situation will be far better with a sales tax than without one. He added that the city’s ability to provide basic services for residents also depends on the common council’s vote.

"Without this new revenue we will have no options other than laying off hundreds of police officers, hundreds of firefighters — devastating our ability to respond promptly to emergencies," he said. "Libraries all across the city will be shuttered. We’ll spiral deeper and deeper into a fiscal crisis."

Johnson said he wants the city to reach 1 million residents to add new energy and create new opportunities in Milwaukee.

Eddie is a WUWM news reporter.
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