This week the U.S. Senate has been negotiating a new stimulus package as the country enters the sixth month of the COVID-19 pandemic. Negotiations have seemingly stalled with Republicans and Democrats at odds on how much money to give to states and municipalities that are struggling to survive during a historic economic downturn.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley says that any package is better than no package. The county is currently facing a $42.5 million budget gap and it has had a lot of added financial stress due to the pandemic.
Crowley says that COVID-19 has a $300 million impact on the county. That comes from a mix of loss of revenue, re-opening costs, and continuing to provide critical services during the pandemic. “Without any additional direct and flexible funding, Milwaukee County which is also the economic engine of the state, won’t be able to address many of the needs our business owners and residents have,” he says.
During the first stimulus package in March, Milwaukee was slated to receive $165 million in funding, but the final bill gave just $62 million to the county and gave the rest to the state to decide how it would be distributed. Crowley is hoping that in the next package, Milwaukee County will be more of a focus as the county with the highest rate of infection of COVID-19.
“With the Democratic proposal, it would mean we are actually able to meet the needs of our residents here within Milwaukee County. Again, when you think about our lost revenue, our re-opening costs, and the demands for many of our services, the money the Democrats are proposing would give us a cushion to do that, even though it’s not enough,” says Crowley.
Inaction is what Crowley fears the most as talks seem to be halted. “No act is the worst action that could be taken,” he says.
He is not just relying on the federal government to help raise funds for the county but is lobbying the state to allow counties to create their own new taxes. He wants the ability to implement a 1% sales tax on certain items in Milwaukee County, which he says would help fund the county and not have to focus on increasing property taxes each time the county needs new funds.
“At the end of the day, if the state doesn’t want local municipalities to continue every two years to hammer them about what our local needs are every budget cycle, this is something they can give us, this is a tool in our toolbox to make sure we are meeting the needs of our residents,” says Crowley.