In Milwaukee, city officials are expected to vigorously contest the governor's effort to end the city's 75-year-old residency law.
Barrett said the effort to end the residency law and the freeze on state aid come at the same time as the city continues to struggle with the ongoing foreclosure crisis. The city is now the largest residential property owner in Milwaukee because of tax foreclosures and has hundreds of homes it says it must raze because they've become magnets for crime.
"There are many homeowners in parts of the city who are currently underwater in their mortgages," Barrett said. "And what this will do is put more downward pressure on property values in the city of Milwaukee."
The city will argue that the ability of Wisconsin cities, towns and villages to determine their own affairs via home rule is outlined in the state Constitution and in state law.
They also will be expected to cite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1976 in which the high court upheld Philadelphia's residency rule. In that case, the court said the law did not violate the due process clause, the equal protection clause or the right to travel interstate.
The issue, at least for the mayor and other top officials, is an issue of local control and say that should appeal to Republicans.
Moreover, the city has argued that the residency law has never impeded the city's ability to retain employees. According to city records, the voluntary separation rate in the city was 1.2% or 83 resignations in 2010. That's out of a city payroll of 6,846 part- and full-time workers.
The city also is a magnet for candidates for the police and fire departments. Even with a residency law in place, the city received 5,743 applications for firefighter jobs in the most recent recruiting period and 3,691 applications for police officer.How To Crush Milwaukee
As for those cities who ended the requirement, the survey found, Minneapolis repealed the requirement in 1999 and 70 percent of its employees now live outside the city. Detroit did so in 1999 and 45 percent now live outside the city. Baltimore repealed in 1995 and 65 percent now live outside the city. Huge numbers of government employees also left St. Louis and Washington D.C. after residency rules were relaxed.
Based on these figures and the fact that in Milwaukee, 50 percent of its retired employees now now live outside the city, Milwaukee officials estimate that it would lose about half of its employees — some 8,700 middle class residents — to the suburbs. Compared to other residents, city employees are more likely to own their homes, homes that on average are worth 20 percent more in assessed value than those of other residents.
The city, in short, would lose a big chunk of its middle class. Housing values and the property tax base could tumble as a result, and spending in the city could decline, hurting businesses and the city’s overall economy. The exodus could transform neighborhoods like Jackson Park, where many police live, or the areas near the airport or far Northwest Side, where many city employees live.
Supporters of ending the residency requirement have argued this will enable the city to hire better employees. But city statistics show there are 42 applications for the average job. In its most recent recruitments, the city received 5,711 applications for the position of fire fighter and 3,569 for the position of police officer.
Walker in particular has argued that ending the residency requirement will help Milwaukee Public Schools to hire better teachers. But a 2006 study by the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute found residency did not have a major impact: just five percent of the 4,699 teachers who had left MPS since 1992 did so because of the requirements. Even so, the Milwaukee School Board has passed a recent measure to address the issue, giving teachers hired for hard-to-fill positions up to two years to move into the city.
The ability of Wisconsin municipalities to tinker with such rules and determine their local affairs is spelled out in the state constitution. Milwaukee’s employees have been subject to a residency requirement since 1938. Is Walker suggesting Milwaukee hasn’t been a great city for the last 75 years? And why would Republicans who support local control change their stance in this instance?
Sykes and others have argue this is a matter of personal freedom. But these employees are free to seek other jobs at any time. And their unions have long had the option of taking less wage and benefits increases in return for ending residency, and declined. Twice in recent years the police and fire unions made a wage concession to end residency and the arbitrator (whom Republicans have often complained tend to favor unions) ruled that the offer was inadequate.
Police and fire workers often grumble about property taxes in Milwaukee, which are higher than many surrounding suburbs. But the major reason for that is the wages and benefits they are paid, which accounts for 60 percent of the entire city operating budget.Since unions are no longer recognized and collective bargaining a thing of the past, thanks to Walker's Act 10, and since other long-standing rules, it appears, are free to be thrown out the window, what's to keep the City from completely reworking police and firefighter pay? As the number of applicants for those positions illustrates, there are plenty of people willing to live in the City to obtain police and fire fighter jobs.
So, turnabout being fair play and all that, what better way to save money in the City budget than by cutting the largest cost, police and fire fighters pay packages. If a police officer, a fire fighter or any other public worker doesn't like the residency requirement, he or she is free to live in another location of his/her liking and to apply for a job somewhere else.
In his first expansive comments on his plan, Walker rejected Barrett's charge that the governor was rewarding the Milwaukee Police Association and the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association Local 215 in return for their political support, saying he had favored ending residency rules when he served in the Assembly. However, as a candidate for county executive in 2002, Walker said he supported the county's residency requirement, though he said Sunday he did so because he felt the County Board wasn't going to change it.
But Barrett said in a statement Sunday that the city was not facing the same issue MPS faces. "The city has thousands of individuals who apply to be city firefighters or police officers," Barrett said. "These applicants are screened, undergo written, physical and psychological testing. They are offered employment based on merit. If the governor believes that only city residents are eligible to apply for city employment, he is wrong. Individuals who apply for employment with the city are informed that, if offered employment, they will have to reside in the city. No one is hired based on where they live at the time a job offer is made."
Barrett said no one's personal freedom was being violated. "People are free to apply for a job and are free to accept the job at the time an offer of employment is made," Barrett said. "If this is an oppression of freedom, then why do we get thousands of applications? The governor's rationale doesn't hold up and doesn't make sense."Remember during Walker's campaigning, he pushed the idea of overpaid public employees. Public workers were a major cause of Wisconsin's (supposed) budget crisis. So, it seems odd when he now says, "Nobody who's a public servant has enough money to just walk away from their home. They're going to sell it. If they do choose to sell . . . they're going to want to cover the amount that they've invested, that they put into that home. So the argument that property values are just suddenly going to shift I don't think matches up with reality."
Got that? Now, to support his political payback to the police and fire unions, suddenly Walker believes public workers are too poor and underpaid to afford taking any type of loss in selling their homes.
For Further Reading:
Attack On Residency Continues Governor's "Divide & Conquer" Strategy