Tim Michels willing to give local governments more state aid to bolster police departments

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Republican governor candidate Tim Michels is open to giving local governments more state funding to counter rising crime and bolster police departments, a revenue boost top Republicans have opposed.

Michels floated the idea while talking to reporters in Milwaukee's Washington Heights neighborhood on Tuesday. The construction executive was joined by members of the Milwaukee Police Association, an organization backing Michels, who's locked in a tight race against Democratic incumbent Governor Tony Evers.

Crime in Milwaukee has become a center issue on the campaign trail and comes as the city this week broke its homicide record for the second year in a row.

Using a portion of the state's projected $5 billion surplus to bolster police departments and/or allowing municipalities to increase their sales tax to make more investments in police are two funding sources Michels said he's willing to talk to Republican lawmakers about if elected.

"There's $43.5 billion spent in the state budget each year," Michels said. "If we have to spend a little bit more money to make law enforcement more effective, hire more police officers -- absolutely we will do that."

Wisconsin is lagging across the country for spending state funding on police. While local governments rank 12th highest in the country for spending on police, state spending is dead last, according to a 2021 report by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum.

When asked if he believes the GOP-controlled Legislature has failed to adequately fund law enforcement, Michels said the state "needs leadership" and "will work with the Legislature to make sure we get funding right."

For years, Milwaukee officials have proposed a 1% sales tax increase to make more investments in police, fire and other essential services. Top Republicans have long-opposed raising taxes and legislation allowing communities to do so. Municipalities cannot increase sales tax without approval from the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Evers has long advocated for increasing shared revenue to local governments, but has been met with resistance by Republicans.

Evers' campaign spokesman Sam Roecker said in a statement, "For years, Republicans have forced communities to do more with less – that’s why Gov. Evers is working to give communities the tools they need to combat violent crime."

The campaign pointed to the $100 million Evers invested in crime prevention efforts, which includes $2.2 million for the Milwaukee Police Department.

Michels has proposed assigning more police officers in high crime areas, incentivizing colleges and universities to expand law enforcement training, reducing state aid to communities who defund police departments, and enacting a mandatory two-year minimum prison sentence for felons convicted of gun possession.

Making changes to the state's bail law, such as allowing judges to consider how dangerous a defendant might be to the public before releasing them pre-trial, is also a priority of Michels and Evers.

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