At first glance, the Milwaukee investment initiative that Gov. Jim Doyle announced in his State of the State speech seemed like great news.
That impression was enhanced because the goal was to target spending in the interest of the entire state on improvements to Milwaukee public safety, health, secondary education, university research and workforce development.
Then it was disclosed this morning that unspecified amount of those funds will have to be raised locally through a so-called "premier resort area" sales tax applied in four-square miles, presumably downtown, where tourists tend to spend their money.
That raised a host of unanswered questions, such as:
In what area exactly: anyone seen a map? And on what goods and services: do you use the resort tax on that hamburger a conventioneer buys at Goolsby's, but not on the one that kid from Marquette is eating at the next table?
For what duration of time is this tax applied? And where do the funds go - - for specific programs, like infrastructure or public safety, or into the city's general fund?
It's not clear if this proposal is more than a continuation of a broader discussion underway for years (remember the Kettl Commission?) about whether the state and the municipalities it creates should find better non-property tax options to pay for so many public services in Wisconsin.
(There are four small Wisconsin municipalities with tourism-heavy economies, like Eagle River and Wisconsin Dells, that already use the special resort area tax.)
And is there enough intention in Milwaukee's government, the private sector and at the grassroots to support a local sales tax increase of any kind - - and were that consensus to form, would fiscal conservatives or Milwaukee-bashers in the legislature neutralize all that by cutting the city's shared revenue by a like amount?
So it's too soon to tell whether the Doyle plan politically is a winner, a loser or something of a fiscal and policy draw.
Doyle gives his budget speech next week and Mayor Barrett delivers his State of the City address, too.
Yet to be heard from: legislators, common council members, community organizations and the public.
Details, details. That process moves into high gear next week.
Friday, February 9, 2007