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Politics & Government

Milwaukee Lawmakers Express Concern Over Plan to Battle Poverty

Legislative Technology Services Bureau

Milwaukee has ranked among the poorest cities across the country, and certain neighborhoods face tremendous challenges.

Last week, a couple Republican legislators rolled out a multi-pronged plan to tackle poverty in Milwaukee’s hardest hit zip codes. Some members of the Common Council wanted to learn more on Monday. A few are questioning the seriousness of proposals.

State Senator Alberta Darling and Representative Dale Kooyenga packed items in what they call their New Opportunities for Milwaukee plan. The state would enact it in areas where the unemployment rate tops 10 percent, according to Jennifer Gonda. She’s director of Intergovernmental Relations for the city of Milwaukee.

“If you have seen the map that’s provided in the document, it covers about half the city,” Gonda says.

Gonda briefed the city’s Judiciary and Legislation Committee on the proposed state plan. Up first were the educational components. Successful charter schools could open new campuses without permission from the entities that hold the charters.

“They could have a second or third branch without approval from the authorizer when they exceed test scores in math and reading by 10 percent of the local public school in two preceding school years. Essentially, it would remove the authorizer’s ability to control the expansion of a particular school,” Gonda says.

Other components of the GOP plan include waiving the need for certain professional licenses in the targeted neighborhoods, to eliminating corporate taxes there, to setting up programs for repeat offenders. Alderwoman Milele Coggs questions whether many of the proposals are well thought out.

“If they got the separate little school thing for the failing schools. If they got charter schools that could expand all willy nilly with no approval. If they got small businesses starting up in all these little houses on the block. If they got recidivism programs run by who knows who-- all this stuff at once, like the impact it could have on these zip codes if all of it isn’t done well. And even if some of the stuff is done well, just it doesn’t have the effect they thought it would have,” Coggs says.

Coggs isn’t the only alderperson with concerns. Alderman Bauman questions the motivation of supporters. He made light of the proposal to eliminate licensing for interior designers.

“With a consistent turnover of homes in several neighborhoods and considerable homes owned by investors, there may be a market for individuals with really good taste to contribute to the design of a home’s interior but who did not have the money to go and pay a license or have the opportunity to attend school. It’s hard to argue the wrong paint and window treatments warrant state regulation. That’s not serious. I’m just wondering is this all a big smoke screen again attack MPS,” Bauman says.

MPS School Board President Michael Bonds has called the plan a step backwards when it comes to the conversations the district had been having with lawmakers.

GOP leaders they will introduce some of their plans separately, while others will appear in Gov. Walker’s budget. He will unveil it tonight.

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