GOP leaders threaten to remove Milwaukee lifeline if deal on local government funding bill isn't reached

NOW: GOP leaders threaten to remove Milwaukee lifeline if deal on local government funding bill isn’t reached

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- After weeks of no movement on a bill to fund local governments, Wisconsin Republican Legislative leaders both separately threatened to remove a proposal Milwaukee leaders have been fighting for if a deal with Governor Tony Evers is not reached.

Negotiations have stalled for nearly a month on the massive bill to increase state aid to every municipality, known as shared revenue. The plan also includes a provision for Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to increase their sales tax, which has been the center of disagreement between legislative leaders.

If an agreement is not made soon, Vos said he supports stripping out the Milwaukee sales tax, including all other measures that target the city and county.

"If we do not get a deal this week, I think we should strip out all the Milwaukee things and we will just focus on the balance of the bill by reaping the personal property tax and making sure every community around the state is not held hostage by Milwaukee's problems," Vos said.

Hours after Vos' comments, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) struck a similar tone and offered Gov. Evers the end of the day to accept his "last, best offer" on shared revenue or his chamber will move ahead with a bill that doesn't include a sales tax option for Milwaukee.

"Today we made our last, best offer to the Governor," LeMahieu said in a statement. "If an agreement is not reached today, the Senate will pursue a shared revenue proposal that does not include an option for Milwaukee to raise additional sales tax revenue."

LeMahieu did not elaborate on what's included in the offer but for weeks he's struggled gain enough votes in his chamber for removing a referendum requirement for a Milwaukee sales tax. He said last month he prefers allowing the Milwaukee Common Council and Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors to make that decision, a move Vos said would “kill the bill.”

"The Governor has a chance to save Wisconsin’s largest city and most populous county from bankruptcy. We hope he takes it." LeMahieu said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Evers did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Evers has expressed support for LeMahieu's effort to eliminate the referendum portion after originally proposing in his state budget to allow Milwaukee County to levy a 1% sales tax, if approved by voters.

Under the current plan, Milwaukee could levy a 2% sales tax while Milwaukee County could add a 0.375% sales tax on top of its current 0.5% tax. It would be an additional revenue source Milwaukee and Milwaukee County desperately need to keep services like police and fire functioning including aid to pay off pension obligations.

Vos and Assembly Republicans oppose giving the city and county board the ability to raise taxes without local input. They passed a bill weeks ago with a referendum component included.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and County Executive David Crowley both believe putting this issue before voters wouldn't pass.

Jeff Flemming, a spokesman for Johnson, said in a statement, “The City of Milwaukee continues to work toward reasonable solutions to the fiscal challenges of our city and other municipalities around the state. Our discussions in Madison continue.”

A spokesman for Crowley did not respond to requests for comment.

"A referendum is basically a death sentence for Milwaukee that will not pass," said Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee). "The referendum is still on the table for discussion, but I am hopeful that will come out."

Gov. Evers met with Vos and LeMahieu on Monday and said it was a "good conversation."

"I'm very, very hopeful that we will have a good outcome by the end of this week or very soon," Evers said earlier in the day while visiting Racine.

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