Lawmakers, business group at odds about Milwaukee Public Schools referendum

NOW: Lawmakers, business group at odds about Milwaukee Public Schools referendum

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) --- Early voting has started in Milwaukee, and on the ballot, taxpayers will be asked to spend hundreds of dollars to help Milwaukee Public Schools - but not everyone is on board.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) is campaigning against a tax hike that would come from the MPS referendum.

"It shouldn't always be whatever you need, we'll give you a blank check," said Dale Kooyenga, MMAC president.

MMAC has launched the "Enough is Enough" campaign, asking voters to choose "no" on their ballots for the MPS referendum.

"The last referendum was $88 million. This one is over a quarter billion dollars and Milwaukee's middle class just can't afford that," said Kooyenga.

If passed, property taxes would go up more than $200 per $100,000 in property value.

"If we're going to have a vibrant, healthy community, we need to have affordable housing, and if you look at the impact this quarter billion-dollar increase in property taxes will have, it will make Milwaukee one of the most unaffordable cities to live in for our middle class," Kooyenga said.

Supporters of the referendum say it would provide an extra $252 million in school funding that is crucial.

"We must vote 'yes' for MPS to protect students from devastating 13% cuts to their school budgets that would cut teachers and critical staff," said Ingrid Walker-Henry, MTEA president, during a press conference outside City Hall Tuesday.

Several city officials and state lawmakers have come out in support of the referendum, including Chris Larson, state senator for district 7 and MPS parent.

He says MMAC and its affiliates have lobbied for tax breaks of their own.

"They have benefited to the tune of $2.9 billion over the last decade, through a tax cut called the agriculture manufacturing tax credit. Now, they are using the benefits of that to try to suppress the vote and try to push people to vote against their best interest that would help our kids," said Larson.

Other supporters say these school referendums are needed because state funding continues to fall short.

"There is absolutely no reason our schools should go into referendum when it costs more to incarcerate our kids than it does to educate our kids," said Latonya Johnson, 6th district state senator.

Meanwhile, MMAC says it supports MPS but that the district should focus more on managing its current budget.

"There's been no articulated plan from Milwaukee Public Schools to say exactly where this is going," said Kooyenga.

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